Even if Ryan Zimmerman and David Wright hadn't played on the same Amateur Athletic Union(AAU) team as kids in Virginia, the two would be inextricably linked throughout their careers as the prize third basemen of two NL East franchises who started their careers nearly concurrently, and are so similar in size and skill as to inevitably draw comparisons.
But Zimmerman and Wright did also play together for the AAU's Tidewater Orioles, out of Virginia Beach, Virginia, where Zimmerman played short, and Wright started at third. (Fellow MLB'er BJ Upton(TB) played second on the team). Zimmerman, 18 years old in 2001, went on to play three years of college ball at the University of Virginia(where he switched to 3rd), while Wright, who is two years older, was drafted by the Mets (38th overall in 2001) and immediately started working his way through the Minors.
Wright played parts of five season throughout all levels of the Mets Minor League system before finally debuting on July 21, 2004. Zimmerman played in all of 67 Minor League games, after being drafted with Washington's first pick as the Nationals on July 5, 2007, before joining Washington on September 5th of the same year and playing 20 games to end the Nationals Inaugural season.
In his first full season in New York in 2005, Wright, then twenty-two years old, played 160 games, batting .306 with 27 home runs, 42 doubles and 102 RBI's. Zimmerman's first starting campaign came one year later in '06, when the twenty-one year old hit .287 in 152 games with 20 HR's, 47 doubles and 110 RBI's.
While Zimmerman was making his first tour of the Majors in 2006, Wright and the Mets were busy making it all the way to the seventh game of the NL Championship Series against the St Louis Cardinals, with Wright batting .311 on the season with 26 home runs, 40 doubles and 116 RBI's, but only .216 in 10 Postseason games with 3 doubles, 1 HR and 6 RBI's.
Both players had disappointing 2007 seasons for different reasons. While Wright hit .325 on the season with 30 HR's, 42 doubles and 107 RBI's, the New York Mets went on a late season losing streak and fell out of first place in the East, and eventually out of the Playoffs, after leading the division for most of the year.
Zimmerman struggled out of the box in 2007, batting .236 in 110 at bats in April with 1 HR, 5 doubles and 8 RBI's in 26 games. Zimmerman played in every game of the 2007 season and hit .272 from April on, to end the season at .266 with 24 HR's, 43 doubles, and 91 RBI's.
Neither player gains the edge over the other in the field, where the two make their share of errors, but more than make up for it in stolen hits. Zimmerman went through a frightening Knoblauchesque stretch of the so-called "yips" this season, inexplicably throwing away routine throws to first, but even with that weird week, Zimmeramn had 23 errors on the season, while Wright commited 21 with no such troubling stretch.
A .951 fielding percentage in four seasons for Wright, .959 in three years for Zimmerman. Wright started 21 double plays in 2007, Zimmerman 39...
My friend Runner, a devastated Mets fan told me recently that their was no longer any comparison, "After this year at least we know who's better between Wright and Zimmerman," Runner said.
"Let me guess, you're gonna say Zimmerman," I joked.
"Wright is clearly the better player," Runner asserted.
"Maybe offensively, but Zimmerman is spectacular defensively," I countered. "Zimmerman had 23 errors this year, and he couldn't throw to first for a while," Runner pulled the number out of his back pocket, and acted as if I'd fallen into his trap. "Wright had 21, and he's had as many as 24 in one season," I argued.
"I just think if you watched Wright everyday..." Runner starts, but I interrupt. "Right and I've watched Zimmerman everyday, that's probably what it comes down to, the more you watch each, the more you realize that they're both unbelieveably talented, and there's no way to know who'll end up being the better player when their careers are done."
"I think Wright will be better," Runner continues, unrelenting.