Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing issues over the last two seasons have been well documented, a quick look at the league leaders in errors will tell you that. Zimmerman was tied for third in baseball last season with 19 and already has 17 this year, also good for third.
Whether it’s purely a mental issue or a physical one - Zimmerman had shoulder surgery this offseason – is not entirely clear. Manager Davey Johnson has been back and forth at times on the issue and still can’t figure it out.
“I don't know if it's physical or mental. Because I see him throw pretty good and in the game he'll want to get a lot of air under it,” he said.
If Johnson had to guess, he’d say it’s all in the third baseman’s head, as Zimmerman tends to be more accurate when he has less time to throw.
“I still think it’s more mental, not just trusting it and cutting loose,” Johnson said. “I see him getting his work in, and he throws it pretty good.”
Zimmerman continues to throw with a robotic motion, appearing to compensate for something when he has time to make a routine throw. He kicks his elbow out and then brings his arm out of his glove in a mechanical motion, almost like he’s showing someone step-by-step how to throw. The ball tends to sail high and to the right of first base, often making Adam LaRoche step off the bag to make the catch.
Johnson and Zimmerman have acknowledged it’s a problem, and the manager thought it would be fixed by now.
“I thought it would all come together about mid-June,” Johnson said. “He works hard at it. I think when you have that problem, if you start thinking it through mentally, it’s like, where’s my arm supposed to go? Well, it just goes there naturally. And you just fire it. I think he’ll get it. But it’s been longer than I thought.”
Zimmerman at one point this season committed four errors in five games on April 12-16. Several of the miscues occurred in later innings and the Nats lost all four of the games he made errors in. Though it hasn’t been a central reason the Nationals are underachieving this season, it has been one of the many little things that have gone for the club.
Johnson acknowledged if Zimmerman continues to have trouble throwing from third, the Nationals will have to do something about it. That could mean him moving to first base as many have speculated, given the short-term contract (through 2014) of LaRoche and the presence of natural third baseman Anthony Rendon on the roster.
“At one time, he had a cannon, and we're all waiting for him to come back,” Johnson said. “If that doesn't get better, then obviously it's not a good spot for him to be in.”
Zimmerman is still one of the best corner infielders in baseball with his glove, he just can’t nail down throwing to first on a consistent basis. The Nats are fortunate to have another option for him if the problems continue. A move to first would eliminate his throwing issues and allow him to continue showing the defensive ability that made him a star.