Ryan Zimmerman, as he explained to reporters before Game 5 of the NLDS, was well aware that his numbers weren’t where they were expected to be this season.
“That's baseball,” Zimmerman said. “I mean, I'm a pretty streaky hitter; I always have been. I've never really gotten to great starts, and come June, July, August, sometime around then, I would usually kick it into gear. This year for some reason, it never really happened.”
“Baseball is a funny sport, man,” he told reporters. “You know, it tests you mentally, it tests you physically and you just have to keep going. There's nothing else you can do. Just keep going out there and doing your work and hope that something clicks and you get hot for a little while.”
Late in the regular season, Dusty Baker explained why the Nationals were willing to stick with Washington’s ‘05 1st Round pick even as he struggled.
Zimmerman, he said, is a carrier, someone who can carry a team if he gets going, as opposed to one who can fill in admirably when necessary.
“I’ve got to play Zim enough to keep his confidence up and let him know that I have confidence in him,” Baker said.
“We need Zim, but without putting undue pressure on him because he’s already putting pressure on himself.”
“I’ve seen it from the other side,” Baker continued. “I haven’t seen it here, but one thing for sure, you’re not going to get it on the bench, but I’m glad we’ve got this lead enough — I know a lot people are like, ‘Why are you still playing him?’ But see this guy is a carrier.
“There are carriers and there are helpers. And the helper can help you for so long, but a carrier can carry you a week to ten days. You’ve seen him, right? A couple of weeks would be all we need. Especially at the right time.”
Zimmerman finished the regular season with a .218/.272/.370 line, 18 doubles and 15 home runs in 115 games and 467 plate appearances, over which he was worth -1.3 fWAR, a career-low in Wins Above Replacement for the now-32-year-old first baseman.
He followed that up with a 6 for 17 showing in the NLDS, connecting for two doubles and drawing three walks with three Ks in five games against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Zimmerman has been with the franchise from the start, and he’s seen it all. He talked before Game 5 about the changes he’s seen since baseball returned to D.C. after a 33-year absence.
“It's been fun for me to grow and also watch the fan base grow,” Zimmerman said.
“A whole generation missed out on baseball, so you're kind of seeing a whole generation of fans, I don't want to say learn how to be baseball fans, but kind of grow up with the team at the same time, which is unique. I don't know if too many other cities can say that they have done that.
“For me to be able to kind of grow up with them, as well, and kind of have a legitimate playoff contender every year and to watch them come out and support us, it's been fun. It's been fun for me. I hope it's been fun for them, too.”
So how long will the Nationals stick with Zimmerman if he continues to struggle like he did this season?
Zimmerman is owed $14M over the next two seasons (2017-2018), then $18M in 2019 and there’s a club option for 2020 at $18M or a $2M buyout. Zimmerman has no-trade protection, which began in 2014, and he has a 5-year/$10M personal services contract which begins once his playing days with the Nationals end.
When GM Mike Rizzo spoke to reporters recently, he said there were no plans to replace Zimmerman at first base any time soon.
“Zim’s our first baseman going into this offseason and spring training,” Rizzo said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
If Zimmerman continues to struggle in 2017 like he did throughout the 2016 regular season?