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Ryan Zimmerman still hitting the ball well, just lacks plate discipline

Strikeouts are up for the Washington Nationals’ first baseman but the numbers suggest he could return to form.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Ryan Zimmerman’s career has been nothing short of a rollercoaster. He captivated the hearts of a city that hadn’t seen everyday baseball since the ’70s, earned a mega-extension and promptly began to decline once the team rose to relevance. Zimmerman’s bounce-back season in 2017 landed him some MVP votes, but now he’s tasked with carrying over that success into a fresh campaign.

So far, the results haven’t been great.

Looking beyond his .122/.204/.224 slash line, Zimmerman has really struggled with plate discipline. The sample size is still relatively small, but Zimmerman’s 21.4 strikeout percentage is the highest of his career. He’s struggled particularly with breaking balls, whiffing on 20.3 percent of them.

Ryan Zimmerman has historically struggled with breaking balls, but 2018 has been especially rough through the first two weeks of the season.
Data Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

To make matters worse, Zimmerman’s struggles have been put on full display in the cleanup spot. No. 3 hitter Bryce Harper is off to yet another torrid start but has either been left stranded or been part of a double play 57 percent of the times he’s reached base. Zimmerman’s .330 OPS out of the No. 4 spot has done Harper no favors in reducing that number.

“Obviously, the production hasn’t been there,” Zimmerman told The Washington Post in early April. “I’ve hit some balls hard at people. … But body feels great. Obviously, everyone likes to get off to a good start, but everything feels good.”

A lot of noise has been made about Zimmerman’s launch angle in the past, but he’s actually posting a career-best groundball rate (36.1 percent) and is hitting the ball to the opposite field well above his career average. A .143 batting average on balls in play could be the biggest contributor to his sluggish start, signaling that he just needs to wait for his luck to turn.

Over the course of his career, Zimmerman has been known to fall victim to extended hot and cold spells at the plate. In 2017 alone, he had one 50-game stretch in which he hit .366 with 38 strikeouts and another where posted a .223 batting average with 47 strikeouts. He also had three separate months with a strikeout percentage higher than his current mark.

Some may blame his non-traditional Spring Training approach of sitting out Grapefruit League games, but Zimmerman’s disappointing numbers appear to be the result of a string of back luck rather than a regression from last season. He likely won’t be able to replicate his absurd 26.5 home-run-to-fly-ball ratio and a slight step back is to be expected.

The Nationals as a whole haven’t been playing up to par but, like Zimmerman, many players just need time to get into rhythm. Despite a 3-7 home stand and six-game deficit in the NL East, the Nats should be just fine.

“It wasn’t good,” manager Dave Martinez said to The Post. “But the effort is there … We’ll keep pushing. We’ll press forward. We’ll snap out of it, and we’ll win a lot of games.”