- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

Ryan Zimmerman: A Tale Of Two Seasons

It was a nice comeback season for Ryan Zimmerman. After injuries held him to just 101 games in 2011, Zimmerman was going to need a good 2012 to restore the faith of fantasy owners. And while Zimmerman’s final slash line of .282/.346/.478 looks strong, he gave owners a bit of a scare early in the year. With his numbers seemingly back to normal, can fantasy owners expect bigger and better things from Zimmerman next season?

Zimmerman may have ended the season with good numbers, but the beginning of the year was hardly promising. After hitting .224 through most of April, it was revealed that Zimmerman was dealing with a shoulder injury. He was placed on the DL near the end of that month, but was able to return by May 8, missing minimal time. Zimmerman wasn’t able to rebound, however, hitting .262 with just one home run in May, and then slumping to a .218 batting average throughout June. By the end of June, there was some question as to whether Zimmerman’s shoulder would put him back on the disabled list.

But in July, almost magically, something clicked. Zimmerman tore the cover off the ball that month, hitting .366/.434/.752. He also managed to club 10 home runs. That success carried through the rest of the season. Zimmerman hit for a strong average, stayed healthy and smashed 20 of his 25 home runs over the second half of the season. To make things even more impressive, he did all of that with a bad shoulder.

The reason for Zimmerman’s turnaround seems to be cortisone shots. Instead of placing their slugger on the DL for a second time, the Nationals opted to try and see if a cortisone shot would help ease his pain. It worked extremely well, but came at a price. By using multiple cortisone shots to get him through the season, the Nationals increased the chance Zimmerman would need surgery once the year ended.

That’s precisely what happened, and now Zimmerman will need six weeks of recovery during the offseason. He’ll enter 2013 healthy, but coming off this surgery. Even if the surgery is successful, Zimmerman is still a risk for injury. The past two seasons, he’s experienced two significant injuries. He missed a portion of the 2011 season with a strained oblique that required surgery, and attempted to play through his shoulder injury this season. While he was healthy in 2009 and 2010, Zimmerman also missed a significant chunk of the 2008 season with an injury to his other shoulder.

Whether Zimmerman deserves an injury-prone label is yet to be determined. He’s had his fair share of injuries over his career, but none of them have been linked. In order for Zimmerman to improve on his 2012 stats, he’ll need to stay healthy for an entire season. If he can do that, he’s definitely capable of producing monster numbers at third base.

Zimmerman finished seventh on Zach Sanders’ third basemen rankings for this past season, but he has a good chance to rank higher after next season. Edwin Encarnacion will lose his third base eligibility, Chase Headley will try and replicate his breakout and Aramis Ramirez will be 35-years-old. There’s a chance that Zimmerman ends the year as a top five third baseman if he’s healthy.

As he showed this season, Zimmerman will play through pain in order to try and make something happen for his team. And while that didn’t work early on, his willingness to opt for cortisone shots kept him in the lineup and increased his performance as the season went on. He’ll enter 2013 completely healed, and ready to claim his spot near the top of the third base rankings. There’s nothing in Zimmerman’s profile to suggest he’s a bigger risk for injury than anyone else, so there’s no reason to use that against him in drafts. A full season gets you elite production, but as Zimmerman showed this year, even a half season of Zimmerman is pretty darn good.