Move Zimmerman to Third

 

The Zimmerman to first movement has quieted down lately. As the season has progressed and the surgically repaired shoulder healed, he looked more and more like himself with each passing month. To put some numbers to this Ryan Zimmerman has 21 errors on the season. If he finishes with those numbers it would be the second most of his career and the 15 throwing errors would be tied as the most with the 15 he had in 2007. From right there it is somewhat obvious in the error department that Zimmerman is the player he's always been, but of his 21 errors seven of them, five throwing, came after the All-Star break. In the last couple months of the season his throws have looked sharper and he has displayed some of that old Zimmerman flair at third.  

Recently Zimmerman admitted that it took him longer to heal than he thought but he didn't want to say anything when he was having the problems because he didn't want people to think he was making excuses. The more troublesome part of Zimmerman's defense was his sudden drop in advanced stats like UZR, and the loss of ability was noticeable with the naked eye. The amount of balls that sneaked under the glove of Zimmerman was one of the more troubling aspects. He was getting to the balls but for some reason couldn't get the glove low enough to scoop them up. One of Ryan Zimmerman's strengths has always been his ability to start the glove low and bring it to the ball, and at that point he wasn't able to. This too has changed.   

UZR doesn't have splits and most would tell you three years of data is needed, so I guess I can give the final word on Zimmerman's 2013 defensive season at the end of the 2015 season, but I really do wish I could see how he progressed in UZR by month. As of this moment UZR/150 has Zimmerman and Miguel Cabrera in a virtual tie with -18.8 and -18.9 ratings. As someone who has seen both play third base, I can say their issues aren't the same. Zimmerman was having trouble throwing, has always had trouble throwing, but as the season has progressed he has put that behind him and has looked much sharper. There aren't advanced stats to back up that progression, so I will trust my eyes on this one and the eyes of others I've talked to. The defensive play of Ryan Zimmerman in the latter half of the season has been better than the defensive play of Ryan Zimmerman from the first half of the season.  

Now to the big numbers. Even if Zimmerman is now an -18.8 UZR/150 third baseman his offense makes up for it. The difference between -18.8 and -20 isn't much but the line for too embarrassing to play a position is -20. That is what Michael Morse was as a left fielder if that gives you any prospective. As far as offense goes here is Ryan Zimmerman's career slash line .287/.353/.479. That slash line isn't far off from Adam LaRoche's career slash line of .265/.337/.474. The OPS difference is only 0.020 points. The average first baseman this season had an OPS of .776 and the average third baseman .736. As a first baseman Ryan Zimmerman's offensive numbers are much closer to the average than his numbers as a third baseman. In fact Ryan Zimmerman's .833 2013 OPS is fourth among qualified third basemen. It would be tenth among first basemen. Moving Zimmerman to first only decreases his offensive value to the team.  

Even with the defensive struggles this season Zimmerman ranks ninth among qualified third basemen in fWAR at 3.0. It wouldn't be that if he were a first baseman. More offense is expected from a first baseman than a third baseman and while Ryan Zimmerman is one of the most consistent offensive players in baseball, his career numbers do not justify a move to first and his defensive play of the last couple month should be enough to raise hopes that he can continue to play third base. He may not be the magical third baseman he was early in his career, but defense is often the first thing a player losses as they age, and some slippage should be expected. Zimmerman isn't a -18.8 UZR third baseman, but he also isn't going to return to the 15.5 he had in 2007. Somewhere in the middle is going to be the future and that is fine. His offense alone can justify him staying at third.  A return to form on defense is only a bonus.   

The Washington Nationals are a better team with Ryan Zimmerman at third base. A league average first baseman is still a good offensive player and even Adam LaRoche in 2013 has been a .742 OPS hitter while the average major leaguer is at .716. It is easy to find an above average hitter at first base, the Nationals already have one. Third base is still an offensive position, but not as much as first, and while Zimmerman is a top five offensive player at one position he would be a middle of the pack offensive player at the other. Keeping him at third base is the right move for the future of the Nationals, even if the defense never gets better. The fact that it has improved as the 2013 season has gone along is even more reason to leave Zimmerman at third base. 

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