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Struggles at third base could cause Ryan Zimmerman to change positions

Aug 7, 2013, 1:18 PM EDT

Ryan Zimmerman AP AP

Ryan Zimmerman has struggled with his throws from third base all season following offseason shoulder surgery, committing a league-high 12 throwing errors while also rating very poorly in advanced defensive metrics.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson indicated yesterday that it could cause the former Gold Glove third baseman to eventually move across the diamond to first base, telling Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post:

I knew it was going to take until June, but obviously it’s taken longer. It’s more about him–if you see him throw early, he throws deeper and throws the ball on line. But I don’t know if it’s physical or mental. Because I see him throw pretty good, and in the game he’ll want to get a lot of air under it. If that doesn’t get better, then obviously it’s not a good spot for him to be in. But at one time, he had a cannon. And we’re all waiting for him to come back and get over it.

Johnson also noted that he thinks Zimmerman’s range has declined because he’s playing in further to give himself shorter throws to make. Not exactly what you want to hear about a one-time stud third baseman whose six-year, $100 million extension doesn’t even kick in until next season.

Zimmerman is certainly a good enough hitter to make an impact at first base, but his overall value there would be considerably lower. This season MLB first basemen have a .773 OPS, compared to a .731 OPS from third basemen. Zimmerman has an .827 career OPS, including a .775 mark this year, so he’d go from being significantly above average at third base to slightly above average at first base. And his potential defensive contributions would drop too.

  1. imnotyourbuddyguy - Aug 7, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    Lil too soon to write him off at 3B just coming off shoulder surgery. But sure, they could shift Rendon back to 3rd and put Zim at 1st.

    • fearlessleader - Aug 7, 2013 at 1:30 PM

      Zimmerman had throwing woes long before he had surgery, though, and he said himself this spring that the issue was mental rather than physical. He gets to the ball like Ron Santo and (too often) gets rid of it like Ron Burgundy. I hope he can sort things out or find a happy home at a new position.

      • danaking - Aug 7, 2013 at 1:45 PM

        I don’t watch a lot of Nats games, but Zimmerman’s throws have always been an adventure. He’s a good player, but not as great as Nats fans seem to think. I’m often reminded of the comment a scout made a year or two ago when asked about the Nats’ chances: they have a couple of hundred million dollar contracts, but no hundred million dollar players. Werth and Zimmerman are good players–very good, even–but I wouldn’t trade them for McCutchen and Alvarez, even with the holes in Alvarez’s game.

  2. psukardi - Aug 7, 2013 at 1:30 PM

    This….This is why I was so livid when they resigned LaRoche. If you move Zimmerman to 1st and Rendon to 3rd you now have a worthless LaRoche because he can’t play the outfield. Now Michael Morse on the other hand.

    You could have put Morse in Left, Harper in Center and Werth in Right.

    But I’m sure the GM of the year knows what he’s doing with this ball club.

    • 18thstreet - Aug 7, 2013 at 1:52 PM

      I basically agree, but a two-year (plus option) contract for LaRoche doesn’t prevent the team from trading him or benching him. It’s not impossible to think someone would be willing to pay the guy $4 million for 2014 and give up a pretty good prospect in return. The Nats would have to eat a good deal of the contract, but they can afford it.

      I never understood why the Nats loved LaRoche so much in the first place. He was a fine stop-gap first baseman in 2012, and the Nats were lucky he had a career year at age 32. He’s not the kind of guy you lust after in free agency.

      • vanmorrissey - Aug 7, 2013 at 2:55 PM

        You can throw the OPS figures out there but in order to make a better evaluation you have to account for their current 1B Laroche’s, .733, below league average. You can play that game and say they’ve increased OPS .042 at the position also. Whatever.

  3. coryfor3 - Aug 7, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    Does Johnson have any filter?

  4. psuorioles - Aug 7, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    Was watching MLBN the other day and they were doing a countdown show of the Best Players from A-Z… they gave it to Ryan Zimmerman and said his defense was the main reason why… I actually spit out my coffee when I heard that…

  5. Stiller43 - Aug 7, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    Is it just me, or has zim always had a noodle arm, even before surgery? I live in northern VA, so i catch a lot of nat games…just using the eye test, his throws have always been flaccid to me.

  6. hoopmatch - Aug 7, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    Wo is der thumbs up and thumbs down?

  7. natstowngreg - Aug 7, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    Ryan Zimmerman has always had a few throwing issues. Before the shoulder problem, he was great throwing on the run, occasionally errant when he had time to think about the throw. But his excellent range and hands — and his bat — allowed the Nats to overlook the occasional air-mailed throw.

    The surprising thing about Kilgore’s piece was Ryan’s bad range metric. It confirms my impression, from watching him play a lot, that he hasn’t been getting to balls he used to field, and isn’t quite as sure-handed. In a recent game, he made two errors on short hops — balls he handled as routine plays before.

    The idea of moving him to 1B has been around for a couple of years. It was based on the eventual arrival of Anthony Rendon, a top-notch hitting prospect with no real position other than 3B. As long as Zimmerman struggles at third, and Rendon struggles out of position at second, the idea will be out there.

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