Ryan Zimmerman is the key to the 2017 roster

The title of this article “Ryan Zimmerman is the key to the 2017 roster” is bold, but it is also true in many aspects as Ryan Zimmerman’s future will determine some off-season moves as well as where players like Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner will be playing with regards to their positions.

Ryan Zimmerman is owed $46 million going forward in guaranteed player money plus a $2 million buyout if he is cut loose after the 2019 season. In addition to that, Zimmerman also gets a personal services contract of $2 million a year for 5 additional years that was part of a creative deal that he signed in 2012.

Zimmerman had a nice 2016 post-season if you look on the surface where he batted .355, but as you dig further he only had one RISP (runners-in-scoring-position) hit and that came on a play where the fielder (Reddick) misplayed that ball as Reddick admitted in the post-game interview which led to the only 2 RBIs that Zimmerman collected in the post-season.

The ability to be strong at RISP hitting and RBIs is a foundation of players who are put at 1st base. Zimmerman’s regular season was not pretty as he slashed  .218/.272/.370/.642 with only 46 RBIs and 15 home runs, and unfortunately it was much worse in RISP. It was that .179 batting average with RISP during the 2016 that was troubling, but within that his bases loaded failure was 100% at 0-11 with 6 strikeouts and that carried over to the playoffs where he struck out in his one spot with bases loaded for 0-12 with 7 strikeouts.

If the off-season acquisitions are based on Ryan Zimmerman, he is the key, and there is warranted concern on which Ryan Zimmerman the Nationals will get in 2017. Some rationalize Zimmerman’s 2016 season as a compilation of bad luck as they point to his BABIP and his 94.1 mph exit velocity which ranked 7th in the NL as their reasoning. That exit velocity is a positive to say Zimmerman’s bat speed is still good, but it did not help that his strikeout rate was the highest of his career at 22.3% and his power percentage was by far the worst of his career at a .370 slugging and his groundball rate is still increasing.

How do you explain the differences in bat speed versus true power? Launch angle and predictability. Zimmerman was pounding more balls into the ground, but also became predictable in defensive positioning as he was pulling groundballs to the left side too often. One thing Zimmerman was not doing was pulling home runs, and much of that could be blamed on launch angle. Zimmerman must adjust to his own mechanics to adjust back to how the league is playing him.

The league this season saw many former All-Stars at 1st base struggle including Mark Teixeira and former MVP Ryan Howard, but both finished ahead of Zimmerman in OPS. In fact, no 1st baseman did worse than Zimmerman who finished dead last when the season finished. Teixeira retired, and Howard is being released by the Phillies. Ryan Howard will be 37-years-old, and Zimmerman is only 32. Here are the stats.

Ryan Zimmerman stayed healthier than past years, but still had 2 stints on the disabled list caused by a ribcage strain and a hand injury, but in all Zimmerman only played in 115 games.

Zimmerman was at a crossroads in his defense in 2013 when he was still the 3rd baseman, but had the issue with throwing the ball. Zimmerman responded then:

“Nope, shoulder feels great,” Zimmerman said. “That’s why it’s so frustrating. I was just going into the dugout and talking to some of the guys. Nobody’s more frustrated than me. I’m the guy out there that doesn’t want to do it more than anyone. That’s the frustrating part too. I’ll have a couple games in a row where I do fine, and it feels great, then all of a sudden I just kind of let [an errant throw] go.”

That type of questioning took place again when it came to Zimmerman’s batting, and he said many times that his shoulder was great even though it was revealed that he had some arthritis.

“It’s been a frustrating year for me,” Ryan Zimmerman said about his 2016 season. “I just haven’t got to a groove yet. Being a leg kick guy, there’s so much timing. There’s a lot of moving parts to my swing. It’s not a very simple swing.”

Zimmerman’s own words dictate that simpler mechanics need to be perfected and used going forward. Can it be effecuated and successful to create a new and improved Zimmerman is the question. Zimmerman admitted that he was not staying back on the sliders that were killing him all year, but the truth is that Zimmerman struggled most against the changeup where he batted .163 this season and .214 against sinkers. Zimmerman hit .234 against sliders.

Compiled from data points in Brooks Baseball

Compiled from data points in Brooks Baseball

The $46 million still owed to Zimmerman, plus a $2 million buyout and $10 million in a personal services contract is 58 million reasons why Zimmerman will be a Washington National for the remainder of his contract and beyond under the terms of that lucrative personal services contract, but what role should Zimmerman play in 2017? Starter or bench are your choices.

Zimmerman’s status with the team will determine much of the future in acquisitions and where Trea Turner plays as he has the greatest positional flexibility. Tom Boswell suggests that Bryce Harper could even play centerfield.

“In baseball, freedom’s just another word for lost too many damn times,” Tom Boswell wrote after the Nats 2016 season finished. “It opens minds and doors. Every option is suddenly on the table. Think radically. Move Bryce Harper to center field, put Turner at shortstop and sign the biggest $150 million free agent bat you can grab to play a corner outfield spot. Or maybe see what Harper’s trade value is since nobody in D.C. has fixed his hitting.”

You have to like when anyone can use part of some Janis Joplin’s lyrics: “…Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, nothing don’t mean nothing honey…” The good news is that Boswell told his wife “…This was a good year. They’re back on track. They’ll go to the World Series in ’18.”

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