Ryan Zimmerman has played his entire career for the Washington Nationals, starting 1128 games at third base. Up until this offseason, Anthony Rendon, too, spent his entire career in the Nationals uniform, while starting 729 times at the hot corner. They’re both very good baseball players. But which of them would you call the best third baseman in team history?
That question’s not so easy, is it?
Why Ryan Zimmerman is the best 3B in Nationals history
Forgetting about the World Series for a moment, Zimmerman’s career is probably most remembered for his younger years. From 2009-13, he hit 25 or more home runs four of five years. During the first year of that run, he earned an All-Star nod, the NL Gold Glove for third base, and the Silver Slugger award for the position.
Zimmerman was worth an astounding 7.2 WAR, per Baseball Reference, that 2009 season, which was the sixth-best in the NL that year. He hit 33 home runs as a 24-year-old, hitting .292 with .364 OBP, and .525 slugging. That might not have been his best season in any single statistic, but across the board, it was probably his strongest performance.
Not that he was a slouch in 2010. That year he batted .307/.388/.510 and finished 16th in NL MVP voting. His 6.2 WAR was ninth overall in the NL.
For a more recent memorable season, Zimmerman came back strong as a then 32-year-old in 2017. He hit the most home runs of his career (36), had his highest slugging, and again earned an All-Star nod, his second. He also became the D.C. home run leader, besting Frank Howard. Of course, by then he’d moved over to first base.
So let’s look at the third base totals: .289 average, .355 OBP, .482 slugging, 182 home runs and 685 RBI.
He also has some of the Nationals’ most memorable home runs, including their first in the World Series.
In the field, Zimmerman peaked at 22 Defensive Runs Saved in 2009, per Fangraphs, though he was worse than average in 2011-14. For his third base career, he finished with 48 DRS.
Why Anthony Rendon is the best 3B in Nationals history
Rendon began his Nationals career as a second baseman as a 23-year-old in 2013. A year later, he got the majority of the starts at third base and never looked back.
Rendon finished in the top six in MVP voting twice but has just one All-Star nod to show for it, that one only coming in 2019.
Like Zimmerman, his best seasons consistently ranked among the best in the NL. From 2017-19, his WAR exceeded 5 three times, peaking at 6.4 in 2019. He was fourth in the NL last season and sixth the prior two years.
His peaks are indeed high: Rendon batted .319/.412/.598 for a 1.010 OPS last season, with 44 doubles, 34 home runs, and an NL-high 126 RBI. He batted above .300 each of the past three years, hit more than 40 doubles in each of them, and had more than 24 home runs in each of them.
That’s a good reason why the Angels gave him $245 million across seven years.
He finished his Nationals career hitting .295/.376/.512 with 124 home runs and 485 RBI.
Rendon was good in the field, but never quite as good. He posted 12 DRS in 2014 and 13 in 2016, per Fangraphs. For his Nationals career at the position, he has 31 DRS.
So, again, who have you got? Zimmerman has had the longer Nationals career. He was probably a little better in the field. And he’s got some of the team’s best overall numbers at the position.
But Rendon has strung together several strong years batting at third while playing as an above-average fielder as well. With his name appearing among the top vote-getters in NL MVP voting, he’s got plenty of respect.
It’s no easy task.
Me, I’m giving the edge to the longtime National, Zimmerman. He didn’t just collect a lot of stats at the position, he fielded it extremely well in his younger years, too. Rendon is great, to be sure, but Zimmerman’s overall game and longevity with the club give him the edge.