As much as I like Ryan Zimmerman (more than a friend), he hasn’t been what everyone thought he would be this season. Bad things first – he has 11.6% of all of the Nationals plate appearances, more than any other 3B in baseball and 10th overall in the league, but his VORP of 8.8 so far put him right on par with Chad Tracy, who’s been hurt much of the season (remember VORP is cumulative). So he is using up many of the teams outs, hitting .259/.313/.438 this season, and on top of that, he leads all 3B with 14 errors. The good news is, the hitting is coming around. He is tearing it up in July, and while the walks still aren’t where they should be, he is hitting more and with more power the last 2 months. But his fielding, that is surprising. Those errors from a guy who was called a “once in a generation” fielder? My feeling from watching him is that he makes more plays than most, so he makes a few more errors, but stats may say something different, so I decided to check it out. Here are the Range Factor [(Assists + Putouts) / Games] rankings for all 3B in the league, with their fielding percentage listed next to that.
Zimmerman ranks #3, barely behind the leader and a distance ahead of the rest of the field. Fielding stats’ relevance are murky at best, misleading at worst (like looking at errors alone). But Zimm’s range factor is incredibly high, so Nats fans should sit back and enjoy watching. The best part about this stat is it confirms what most people feel – yeah he made a few extra errors, but he made so many more plays than a normal 3B would.
Early in the year, we discussed how the potential lineup wasn’t going to be as bad as everyone thought. If Church, Young, and Belliard played instead of Logan, Fick, and Guzman we said, there was a chance of scoring some runs. Well things never seem to work out as we think they will. It turns out, Belliard and Young have been even better than I predicted here (which was already better than most thought) while Church has been worse (but more valuable than Logan). The problem isn’t any of these players per se, although Church is part of it. The real problem is the lack of HRs. Nobody other than Zimmerman is hitting with any power at all, and without going long, it is alot harder to score runs consistently. Not that it doesn’t happen. Colorado is pretty low on the HR scale but #2 in Runs Scored. But that has something to do with the new dynamics of their ballpark – it is HUGE and thanks to the baseballs being frozen, not alot of HRs get hit there – but not surprisingly the team is #2 in hits and #1 in BBs, so they actually are stringing together hits.
Meanwhile, back in DC, the Nats can’t hit HRs. They are currently dead last in the Majors with 60 HRs. Not entirely shocking because they play their home games, at a huge park, and 3 of their division mates play in huge parks as well. But these teams, the Mets, Braves, and Marlins all have over 100 HRs, in fact, Florida is #4 in the NL with 121 of them. Fittingly, they fall in at #2 in total runs (unlike past seasons, this year it is their pitching that is betraying them). The Nationals power drought can be seen in individual performances. Ryan Church hasn’t hit a HR since June 12, a total of 29 games, but it’s hard to get on his case since he’s on pace to hit 50 doubles this season, despite the fact that he’s been hitting poorly since the beginning of June. Austin Kearns is someone that has hit with so little power many have begun to notice. He hit a HR sunday, before that, his last HR was on May 22, a drought of 52 games and 209 PAs, which is unacceptable for a corner outfielder unless he’s hitting over .300 and stealing bases. In that time, he has hit .254 with an OBP of .340, neither of which is much worse than you’d expect from him. But in terms of power, his ISO was an abysmal .061, awful for a middle infielder, nauseatingly bad for a corner outfielder. Also, it doesn’t help this team that Nick Johnson hasn’t taken a walk or hit a home run since September of 2006.
Where does all of this get us? Well, this team is going to be making trades (hopefully) over the next couple of weeks and signing free agents (hopefully) this offseason. It shows us that they really need to pursue one thing more than anything else, which is a power bat. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, they need more HRs, especially out of their OF, and now is the time to start looking.