Needling the Nats MVP Race

The Nationals have a clear cut and deserving MVP candidate. It’s not Gio Gonzalez – I think pitchers have their own award and shouldn’t win MVPs. It’s not Adam LaRoche, in part because I believe Ian Desmond has been more valuable this year (and fangraphs agrees). But it’s not Desi either. No, it’s this guy:

No, that isn’t B12, steroids or even monkey gonad juice. That’s right, the MVP award goes to… Mr Cortisone!

Alright, alright, that’s being a bit ridiculous, but hear me out. Everyone knows that the shot helped Ryan Zimmerman, it was talked about quite a bit at the time. But it’s been almost 3 months and he just keeps killing the ball. Check out his numbers before and after his cortisone shot on the afternoon of June 24, right before a game against the Orioles:

4/5 – 6/23: 242 PA, .218/.285/.305, 3 HR

6/24 – 9/12: 326 PA, .339/.405/.616, 19 HR

The contrast is striking. Ryan Zimmerman wasn’t even a replacement level offensive third baseman for the first two months of the season. He was just plain awful at hitting. That .590 OPS, projected out for the season, doesn’t just rank him last among all NL 3B with at least 200 PAs this year, it ranks him 301 out of 320 players with that many plate appearances. It isn’t Major League level minimum for any position, let alone third base.

But since the shot, he has truly been playing at an MVP level. The 1.021 OPS would rank him only behind Joey Votto and David Ortiz on the entire MLB OPS list. This while playing stellar defense. Now, since his numbers have been weighed down but such a long bad stretch, it is hard to discount that first 42% of the season (unlike with Espinosa, who’s bad run was a relatively short 20% of his PAs so far).

This offensive surge in Zimmerman’s numbers have shown up on the team’s stats. Remember in April and May when the team kept winning without scoring? Everyone thought, this is great, but if they don’t start hitting, they won’t win all these close games. Well, they did start hitting. At the bottom half in runs scored for most of the season, thanks in no small part to Zim, they now rank fourth in the NL in runs scored. That’s right, fourth.

So you can thank Zimmerman for a good chunk of this offensive surge. But he can’t really be the MVP when he was such a drag on the offense in April and May, right? And yes, Desmond, LaRoche – who were there all along – and others are a big part of this as well (Werth coming back and having the 6th best OBP among NL players with 250+ PAs doesn’t hurt). But it’s hard to imagine the Nats sitting 8 1/2 games up in the NL East, ranking #4 in runs scored, without help from this season’s most underrated contributor: The Cortisone Shot.

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