Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ryan Zimmerman = Albert Pujols?

I’ve been there with Ryan Zimmerman from the beginning. I was at the game when Zimmerman walked it off against the Yankees in 2006, his first career walk off home run. I watched live on ESPN from my Notre Dame dorm room when his solo home run in the bottom of the ninth won the first home game in Nationals Park. My Ryan Zimmerman shirsey, in the old Nationals style script, is starting to show its age. As the first face of the franchise for the Nationals, it’s hard to imagine the team without him, but I’m starting to worry about what the team can expect from Zimmerman in the future.

Zimmerman was one of the steadiest offensive players in the majors, until plantar fasciitis derailed his season this year. Fans are counting down the days until Zimmerman can return. MASN’s Dan Kolko is tweeting about Zimmerman running sprints for goodness sake. To find out what to expect from Zimmerman, let’s take a look at Albert Pujols.

Yes, that Albert Pujols. But Pujols is one of the greatest hitters of this generation, you say. How can Pujols help us figure out Ryan Zimmerman, you ask. Yes, Pujols has put up better numbers than Zimmerman has, but they have been two of the most consistent hitters in the majors. Compare the career wOBA for Zimmerman through the 2014 season to Pujols’ career wOBA from 2001-2011 (2011 was Pujols’ age 31 season and Zimmerman is currently 30 so this cutoff will capture the same age range for Pujols and Zimmerman). Don’t focus on comparing the individual wOBA between the two players, but compare the consistency year to year:

Clearly, we are looking at two incredibly consistent players, performing significantly above average offensively year in and year out. Unfortunately for the Angels, Pujols has been beset by injuries since signing his huge contract with the west coast team. The most impactful injury was his own battle with plantar fasciitis starting in 2013. While capable of playing through the injury, Pujols put up the worst season of his career, posting career lows in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage. The impact of the foot injury was two-fold: it kept Pujols from performing in the 2013 season and kept him from keeping up with his normally strenuous offseason training program leading up to the 2014 season, setting up a vicious cycle of poor performance. That led to the second worst season of Pujols’ career last year in 2014, proving that this type of foot injury isn’t something to be taken lightly. Of course, this isn’t a sad story. Pujols’ decline got reversed in a big way this season and he has bounced back impressively, leading the AL in home runs and even getting picked for the home run derby for the first time in years.

Although Pujols has proven that this type of injury isn’t a death knell, even at 35 years of age, his story won’t make Nationals fans comfortable with the immediate future for Ryan Zimmerman. Although Zimmerman may return to his previous levels of performance eventually, it seems unlikely that he will do so this season. While no two injuries are the same, it took one of the greatest hitters of all time nearly two years to return to his previous performance levels after a bout of plantar fasciitis. Expecting Zimmerman to come back ready to rake this season is setting the bar too high. It takes so much muscle coordination to perform at a major league level that one minor change in that physical chain can throw the whole motion off. Nationals’ fans need look no further than Stephen Strasburg and his struggles this year to be reminded of this.

This is not to write off Ryan Zimmerman as a major league ball player. He is signed to a multi year contract and I fully expect him to provide value on that contract going forward, just not in the 2015 season on a consistent basis. The Nationals are all in for 2015. Mike Rizzo pulled together the rotation to end all rotations, traded in former key contributors and prospects alike to put together the best team in 2015 he could. As much as I like Ryan Zimmerman, Rizzo needs to consider Zimmerman a part time player at best for the remainder of this season. That means going out on the trade market (once it finally develops) and targeting someone who can play first base.’s Jonah Keri has proposed Adam Lind of the Brewers as an ideal trade target. He plays first base and absolutely rakes against right handed pitching. He’s not a great defensive player and he struggles mightily against left handed hitting, but no player dangled on the trade block will be perfect. I like Keri’s suggestion of Adam Lind, but he will be a popular trade target. I have proposed before that the Nationals could consider Mike Napoli of the Red Sox. He hasn’t been hitting very well this year, but that means he should come at a discount. Neither of these players, or anyone else who might become available down the line, will replace Ryan Zimmerman. But they don’t have to. They just have to cover for him in 2015 as the Nationals chase down a World Series Championship.


  1. Comparing Albert Puljols career to Ryan Zimmerman's is insanity. Take a look at their career stats and you will wish you never wrote the above piece because it is ridiculous.

  2. He's comparing their injuries, dumb shit.