Hot Topic Nationals Journal

Putting a number on a theory

For Love of the Nationals blog says first baseman Adam Dunn, above, cost third baseman Ryan Zimmerman three errors this season.
For Love of the Nationals blog says first baseman Adam Dunn, above, cost third baseman Ryan Zimmerman three errors this season. (John Mcdonnell)
By Dave Sheinin
Friday, November 12, 2010

In writing previously about Ryan Zimmerman's failure to win a second consecutive Gold Glove Award for National League third baseman, I mentioned, somewhat casually, the likelihood that Adam Dunn's presence as the Nationals' first baseman had contributed to Zimmerman's increase in errors in 2010.

I based that assertion largely on memory, as well as the fact that 11 of Zimmerman's 17 errors were on throws. It was understood among those of us who cover the team that Dunn cost Zimmerman a handful of errors by not rescuing slightly errant throws. How many? If pressed, I would've pegged the number at about a half-dozen. Why not investigate further, by checking the video of each error? Because: A) it would still have been a very subjective (or even pointless) exercise, as each errant throw would have to be categorized as being preventable, or not, by a better defensive first baseman, B) I trusted my memory, and C) I didn't believe it mattered in the big picture to come up with a firm number.

In other words: How many fewer errors would it have taken for Zimmerman to beat out Scott Rolen for the Gold Glove? There's no way to know.

But one of the great things about baseball writing in the Internet age is that there are plenty of folks out there who will hold you accountable, and a blogger named David Lint, who publishes a blog called For Love of the Nationals, has done exactly that with an excellent post, fashioned as an open letter to me, that breaks down all of Zimmerman's throwing errors. Read the whole thing for yourself, but Lint's conclusion - which he arrived at by watching video of each throw - is that Dunn cost Zimmerman only three errors this season.

I won't quibble with his findings, except to point out how incredibly subjective an exercise this is - the real number may be six, as my memory told me, or it could be zero. How many of the errant throws would have been saved by a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman? By a league-average first baseman? Besides, all of Zimmerman's throwing errors were, by definition, poor throws (either in the dirt, wide of the target, or air-mailed) that don't necessarily require a secondary assignation of blame.

And so, to return to the question posed in the title of this post, did Dunn cost Zimmerman the Gold Glove? I don't think so, and I never said so. I think Rolen's reputation, resurgent offensive season and fielding percentage, in that order - plus the fact he is really, really good - won him the award. Rolen in his prime was the best defensive third baseman I've ever seen, though Zimmerman, in my mind, is right there with him.

But I also believe the defensive quality of a first baseman has a major impact on the rest of a team's infielders. And apparently the Nationals do, too - which is the main reason they don't seem to be highly motivated to re-sign Dunn, despite his obvious (offensive) attributes.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company