Now That He's Back, What Can We Expect from Ryan Zimmerman?

Ryan Zimmerman returned to the Nationals' lineup yesterday. What can we expect from him?

Washington Nationals third baseman (and apparently now left fielder) Ryan Zimmerman had played in only 10 games this season prior to his activation from the DL yesterday (and start in the outfield). He was placed on the DL with a fractured right thumb, injured on April 12th. The Nationals’ offense as a whole has been struggling this season, so Zim's return comes at a good time. But will his comeback really help turn things around, and more importantly, will he become a fantasy baseball asset this season?

Over the past two seasons, Zimmerman has been a top-7 to -10 ranked third baseman, and a fringe top-50 player on most fantasy sites. His average numbers over these two seasons come out to a line of .278/.345/.471, with 25.5 home runs and 87 runs batted in. He averaged an OPS of .816, a wOBA of .353 and an fWAR of 3.45 according to FanGraph’s version of wins above replacement. These are certainly above average numbers, suggesting he’s a player you want on your fantasy team.

As noted, Zim had only played in 10 games before yesterday’s start, and while the sample size is tiny, he was killing the ball. He had 12 hits in his 10 games – 5 of which were for extra bases – posting a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .443, and a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 185. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .417 might cause you to think his numbers were a bit skewed, but when you hit .364, you’re likely going to have a high BABIP as well.

But I get it - he hit well for 10 games. Big deal. Can he continue the pace now that he’s healthy?

If we are basing the answer on just last night’s performance (2 for 4 with an RBI, both hits being doubles), the answer would be yes. Obviously it’s not smart to put a lot of future valuation in just one game, but it’s a least a positive sign.

His last two seasons basically reflect the player he’s been for his career, as his average line over these two seasons is just slightly below his career line of .287/.353/.479. We know who Zim is and what to expect. With just about 100 games left on the season for the Nats, it’s unlikely that Zimmerman will reach his two-year average of 25 home runs, but you can reasonably expect him to hit 15-18 more this season, with a batting average of around .280. That’s solid production from the third base position that’s been relatively weak this year. (Zimmerman will stay in left field until Bryce Harper returns sometime next month, but then will likely return to third.)

While Zimmerman’s percentage of pitches chased outside the strike zone has increased in recent years, his walk-to-strikeout rate hasn't dropped significantly. So even though he may rack up some additional strikeouts from being aggressive at the plate, his line-drive percentage last season (21.5%) was the highest it’s been since 2006 – his second season in the majors – meaning good things tend to happen when he puts the ball in play.

The switch to left field for Zimmerman shouldn't be cause for alarm, either. His bat is good enough to stay in the everyday lineup regardless of where he is playing, be it the outfield, third base, or first base. With a 28-28 record on the year (although they have the ninth-highest team nERD score) and with a struggling offense, the Nats need all the help they can get, meaning Zim won’t be benched for poor defensive play. (For what it’s worth, he looked fine in left last night and made a nice running catch.)

Unless you have a top third baseman this season like Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, or Miguel Cabrera on your team, I’d suggest looking to acquire Zimmerman. Of course, check out our projections and see what the algorithms think, too.