Sep 3, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
Ryan Zimmerman is the last guy in the Nationals clubhouse who is going to gather his teammates together and offer an impassioned plea for better play on the field. There isn’t an ounce of cheerleader in the man’s body. Never has been, never will be.
Which doesn’t mean Zimmerman can’t still be a leader of this ballclub. Leaders come in different shapes and sizes and personalities. Some lead with their words. Some lead with the example they set, both on and off the field.
And nobody has set a better example for others in the 10-year history of the Nationals than the guy who was the organization’s first-ever draft pick upon arriving in the District.
Has Zimmerman ever been criticized for lack of hustle? For not putting his team ahead of his own personal benefit? For passing blame onto others? For giving anything less than his best?
His career might be considered by some a disappointment, but that’s a result solely of the injuries he has suffered over the last decade, most notably a right shoulder that hasn’t been 100 percent since maybe 2009 and led to his well-publicized throwing woes at third base.
All those injuries, especially in recent years, have made us forget at times a significant point: Ryan Zimmerman, when healthy, is an awfully good baseball player.
Consider his average career stats over a 162-game season: A .282 batting average, 25 homers, 97 RBI, 91 runs scored, a .348 on-base percentage, .473 slugging percentage and .821 OPS. There are 11 full-time third basemen in the Hall of Fame. Only five had a career OPS higher than Zimmerman. Only three had a higher slugging percentage.
Now, this isn’t to suggest Zimmerman is going to wind up in Cooperstown some day. He won’t play enough games in his career to merit serious consideration, and his defense at third base (once legendary) deteriorated to the point it was a severe black mark on his record. He may prove to be a very good first baseman over the remainder of his career, but his offensive numbers won’t look as impressive on that side of the diamond as they did on the other.
This is only to serve as a reminder just how good a player Zimmerman is when he’s able to play. And boy has he been showing it over the last few weeks.
Wednesday night’s game in St. Louis was merely the culmination of a red-hot streak at the plate for Zimmerman. He launched two homers, including the 200th of his career, which happened to come on the 10th anniversary of his first career hit. He also drove in the winning run with an RBI double to right. In fact, all three of the runs he drove in during this game gave the Nationals the lead.
Over his last 10 games, Zimmerman is hitting .359 with seven homers, 19 RBI and a 1.346 OPS. How good is that? Well, do you remember his torrid stretch in 2012 after receiving a cortisone shot in his ailing shoulder? During his best 10-game stretch that summer, he hit .370 with four homers, 16 RBI and a 1.147 OPS. This stretch has been better.
And boy have the Nationals needed this one, especially Wednesday night. That was yet another game that was slipping from their grasp, but Zimmerman did everything he could to seize control right back.
That’s leadership. When his team needed him most, he stepped up and delivered.
Not with his words. But with his performance on the field and the example he has always set off it.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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