Monday, November 9, 2015

2015 Season Review: Ryan Zimmerman

While the story of Wilson Ramos’ season revolved around his surprising full season of health, Ryan Zimmerman’s season was just the opposite. He played in 95 games in 2015, actually significantly more than the 61 he played in in 2014. Except, for a good chunk of those 95 games, he wasn’t fully healthy. Dealing with a debilitating case of plantar fasciitis over the first half of the season, it was clear that Zimmerman was really struggling to generate power in his swing, push off that foot running the bases, and making quick cuts on defense at first.


Over that first half of the year, it was clear that Zimmerman was not close to being the consistent Ryan Zimmerman Nationals fans have grown accustomed to. He hit only .209 with a measly 5 home runs, resulting in a wOBA (a measure of total offensive production that weights offense results by value added) of .266 and a wRC+ (a weighted measure of runs contributed where 100 is league average) of 64, meaning that Zimmerman was nearly 40% worse than league average.

All signs from the first half, though, point to a usually consistent hitter struggling to adapt to the foot injury. Plantar fasciitis famously sapped Albert Pujols of his power stroke, and Ryan Zimmerman’s bout with the injury was no different. Zimmerman’s BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) dipped to a historically low .228. For his career, Zimmerman has sat around a .300 BABIP. What that drop in BABIP points to is a hitter struggling to put solid contact on the ball and, sure enough, Zimmerman posted the highest ground ball rate of his career and lowest hard hit percentage of his career over the first of 2015.

The foot injury kept Zimmerman from hitting the ball with authority. To compound those struggles, even when Zimmerman hit a ball solidly, but on the ground, that same injury kept him from hustling down the line and likely stole some infield hits from him. After attempting to play through the pain, Zimmerman finally ceded to the injury and hit the DL.

Coming back from the injury in the second half of the year, Zimmerman looked like a player transformed over the 39 games he played in. His batting average was up to .311 over the second half of the year, with a .422 wOBA and a wRC+ all the way up to 171. Those trends of softly hit balls on the ground from the first half of the year? Replaced with a hard hit rate of over 50% and a groundball rate below even Zimmerman’s career norm of 40%.

Of course, that hot second half ended early with Zimmerman once again getting struck by the injury bug, this time with an oblique injury. After a couple weeks of trying to rehab it, to no avail, Zimmerman finally threw the towel in on the season days before it officially ended.

Sadly, that story has now turned into the narrative around the remainder of Zimmerman’s career. When healthy, there is no doubt that he can hit and remains a cornerstone of the Nationals’ offense. Except that “when healthy” part seems to be less the norm and more the exception. Given all the time missed over the last several seasons, it’s easy to call Zimmerman injury prone. Trying to take a positive outlook on the situation, Zimmerman’s injuries have seemed to be isolated incidents. Plantar fasciitis, hamstring, broken hand, oblique. It’s not a string of injuries all linked to each other, so maybe it’s just been bad luck. At 31, though, it’s harder and harder to read the laundry list of injuries and not start to believe that Zimmerman just won’t be able to stay healthy for a full season.

Regardless of whether he stays healthy or not, Zimmerman is a part of the Nationals future in 2016 and beyond. Everyone will root for a healthy Zimmerman to play a full 2016 season. If he is healthy, there is not much doubt that he will produce at levels similar to what Nats fans have come to expect.

The Nationals, especially after a season torpedoed by injuries in 2015, need to game plan for 2016 expecting Zimmerman to miss some time, though. The answer could be Clint Robinson, who impressed at the plate in his first taste of consistent major league playing time. But even while Clint moonlighted as an outfielder over spans last season, anyone who watched the games knows that Clint is barely a passable first baseman defensively and certainly not a reliable outfielder. If 2015 taught the team anything, it is to prepare for the worst by building up depth that can be relied on for consistent playing time. Everyone would love to see Ryan Zimmerman trot out to first game in and game out, but it’s getting harder and harder to picture that happening.

Previous 2015 Season Reviews:
Denard Span
Ian Desmond
Doug Fister
Jordan Zimmermann
Wilson Ramos

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