Player Preview: Ryan Zimmerman
If the Nationals are still taking suggestions for 2016 promotional giveaways, I've got a great one Operation featuring Ryan Zimmerman. OK maybe that's too depressing. However, I'm racking my brains trying to think of a player who has been so thoroughly beaten down by injuries. Yes, there are many who have been nagged by the same injury multiple times (shoulder, elbow, knees) but few can claim the multitude of career changers that Zimmerman can, especially recently.
The bug stared off simple enough, with a left labrum tear (shoulder injury) in 2008 that caused him to miss 48 games. But fantastic bounce back seasons in 2009 and 2010, where by fWAR he was the 8th and 6th best player in baseball, assuaged Nats fans' fears. His second injury was completely different, an abdominal tear that took him out for 58 games in 2011.
Then things went from bad to worse. He had constant inflammation in his right shoulder that made it nearly impossible for him to throw accurately from third base. Despite being able to play over 140 games again in '12 and '13, his defensive numbers took a nosedive, but he was still able to rake at the plate.
Then things went from bad to worse. In 2014, he suffered a fractured thumb diving back to the bag 12 games into the season, came back for 43 games, then severely strained his hamstring, essentially missing the rest of the season and the playoffs. That was the first season Zimmerman failed to play at least 100 games in. And while his power numbers took a dip, he still hit for the same .280/.340 he always had while getting used to left field.
Then things went from bad to worse. In 2015, Zimmerman started off terribly before finally going on the DL in June with plantar faciitis missing 39 games, coming back, getting hot, and then missing the last 30 games of the season with a left oblique injury. For the second year in a row he failed to play in at least 100 games.
There's more bad news going forward for the Nats. First, the plantar faciitis isn't going away, Zimmerman just played in his first spring training game yesterday after taking it slow enough to embarrass a turtle trying to keep his foot pain managed. Other players with the same injury, like Angels' albatross Albert Pujols, continue to have reoccurring issues with it.
Second, the plantar faciitis seemed to be the first injury to affect him at the plate when he was in the lineup. In 2015, Zimmerman finished with a .249/.308/.465 slash and 107 wRC+. Those were career lows for batting average, on-base percentage and wRC+. His strikeout rate jumped above 20 percent for just the second time and his walk rate dropped down to 2006-07 levels. He did manage to hit .311/.372/.652 in the 39 games he played between injuries, but it's too soon to say he can manage it and be the same Ryan whenever he happens to be in the lineup.
Third, the Nationals have him signed for four more years and $62 million (technically they could have a fifth year for $18 million, but I'm assuming the $2 million buyout will be chosen instead). That's one more year than they have Bryce Harper and the same term they have Anthony Rendon for, a time when they should be putting most of their resources into taking advantage of such great talents and will instead have Zimmerman taking up the first base spot and a sizable chunk of dough. Really the Nats should be the leading pro-DH in the NL voice because of this.
All Nats fans have and will always have great memories of Ryan Zimmerman as a National and it's sad to see what's happened after a 2012 extension that should have guaranteed him the lifetime title of Mr. National. There's really not much the Nats can do here going forward besides hope for the best injury wise and that Clint Robinson remains an All-Star backup. But eventually there will come a time when all the king's horses and all the king's men won't be able to put Zimmerman back together again.