After big-time comeback, Zimmerman will try to sustain form

As we transition into offseason mode, we’ll be reviewing each significant player on the Nationals roster. We begin today with Ryan Zimmerman, who in the wake of the worst season of his career enjoyed perhaps the best season of his career.

PLAYER REVIEW: RYAN ZIMMERMAN

Age on opening day 2018: 33

How acquired: First-round pick, 2005 draft

MLB service time: 12 years, 32 days

2017 salary: $14 million

Contract status: Signed for $14 million in 2018, $18 million in 2019. Club holds $18 million option or $2 million buyout for 2020.

2017 stats: 144 G, 576 PA, 524 AB, 90 R, 159 H, 33 2B, 0 3B, 36 HR, 108 RBI, 1 SB, 0 CS, 44 BB, 126 SO, .303 AVG, .358 OBP, .573 SLG, .930 OPS, -8 DRS, 3.3 WAR

Quotable: “Games played. At-bats. I think that was the goal going into this season. The last two and a half - really three - years have been a struggle for me. And we still had faith that if I could stay healthy and get my 500-600 at-bats, it was still there. It’s nice to be able to play.” - Zimmerman, asked which of his stats he was most proud of this season.

Ryan-Zimmerman-running-white-sidebar.jpg2017 analysis: Had you asked even the most ardent Zimmerman supporter back in spring training for a best-case scenario in 2017, no one would honestly have predicted this. The veteran first baseman was coming off a terrible 2016 in which he batted .218 with a .642 OPS and was restricted to fewer than 120 games for the third straight year due to injuries. There was legitimate reason to wonder whether he’d ever recapture anything resembling the form he displayed earlier in his career.

And then came April, during which Zimmerman hit .420 with 11 homers, 29 RBIs and a 1.345 OPS, earning National League Player of the Month honors. He couldn’t maintain that pace, but he still posted huge first-half numbers (.330/.373/.596, 19 homers, 63 RBIs) and was selected by fans as the NL’s starting first baseman for the All-Star Game. Along the way, he set the franchise and Washington records for career home runs, plus the franchise record for career RBIs.

Zimmerman did go through a lengthy slump in late summer, hitting .234 in July and August, but he bounced back and finished strong. In September, he hit .325 with a 1.021 OPS. Thanks to that closing stretch, he became the first player in Nationals history to hit .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs in a single season.

2018 outlook: So what can reasonably be expected of Zimmerman next season? Can he be counted on to duplicate this performance? Probably not. But he did prove that if he can keep himself healthy, he can put up strong numbers across the board, even if he does go through streaks along the way.

The key for Zimmerman, as it was this season, is going to be to continue getting some elevation on his batted balls. His peripheral numbers in 2017 weren’t that different from 2016, when he routinely hit the ball hard but on the ground. This year, he figured out how to hit the ball in the air with more regularity, something he’ll need to continue to do in the future.

As he approaches his mid-30s, Zimmerman has taken steps to take care of his body in new ways, altering his training regimen. It’ll only get harder as he gets older, but now he does have a blueprint to follow. Dusty Baker (or whoever ends up managing the team) would be wise to continue giving him regular days off to make sure he doesn’t get worn down.

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