Ryan Zimmerman’s RBI total shows Nationals’ top-of-the-order improvement

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Ryan Zimmerman could still reach 100 RBIs this season, which says something about him and even more about the hitters in front of him. Zimmerman has 93 RBIs with nine games remaining despite spending two weeks on the disabled list and another month stuck in a wicked slump. It is an accomplishment for him and, more so, a sign of how far the Nationals have come in solving their biggest offensive problem.

In 2010 and especially 2011, the Nationals’ first and second batters made outs with staggering frequency. Last year, Nationals leadoff hitters managed a .285 on-base percentage and their second hitters combine for a .283 OBP. This season, with Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper currently manning those spots, the OBPs have jumped to .326 and .331.

“You can only knock in guys that are out there,” Zimmerman said. “You can only knock in yourself so many times, and that’s not going to get you anywhere near 100. It gives you more opportunities to drive them in.”

Last season, Zimmerman essentially served as the Nationals’ primary rally starter, usually coming to bat after the hitters in front of him had made outs. This year, he has had ample chances to drive in runs. Zimmerman has come to plate with runners on base in 46.1 percent of his plate appearances this year, compared to 41.1 percent last year.

How much of a difference does that five percent make? If Zimmerman hit this year with runners on base at the same rate as 2011, he would have taken 78 fewer plate appearances with a runner on.

He hasn’t changed as a hitter or “run producer.” What’s changed is the players in front of him, and it has made the Nationals a far better offense.

“Obviously, you can’t get RBIs unless there’s guys on base,” Zimmerman said. “Jayson’s been phenomenal at the top of the order. Bryce has gotten better as the year’s gone on. To have those two guys on base, being able to score from first, being able to score on a lot of balls, their speed and athleticism is a big reason why our numbers have kind of recovered to a respectable clip. To be where I’m at right now, compared to where I was in June, if you would have told me then I would have these numbers, I think I would have taken it.”

Before June 24, Zimmerman was hitting .218/.285/.305 with 22 RBIs in 242 plate appearances. On that morning, Zimmerman received a cortisone shot in his aching right shoulder. Zimmerman has since hit .332/.397/.603 with 71 RBIs in 362 RBIs. Suddenly, even after slogging through almost three months, Zimmerman ranks 11th in the National League in RBIs.

“Driving in RBIs in the big leagues is hard to do,” Zimmerman said. “Probably a handful of guys do it every year. That’s the goal for everyone that’s in the middle of the order, to drive in 100. To have the chance, to have long shot to do it after what I went through this season, that’s pretty cool.”

For most the year, Zimmerman has hit behind Harper. He pointed out how helpful Harper’s aggressive base-running has helped his RBI total.

“Once he gets on base, he’s dangerous,” Zimmerman said. “He’s a little reckless sometimes, but that kind of recklessness forces the other team’s hand sometimes. It makes them make mistakes. He gets into scoring position sometimes when maybe he wouldn’t be in scoring position if weren’t as aggressive.”

Also on Nationals Journal

Nationals-Phillies discussion thread: Game 154