Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman should be next NL MVP

Ryan Zimmerman is on pace to become the first Washington franchise MVP since Roger Peckinpaugh in 1924. That is, if his production doesn’t get overshadowed by his teammate’s.

ESPN’s pre-season awards experts casually forgot to mention Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman in their NL MVP discussions. Bryce Harper, of course, earned the top spot.

However, to compare, Zimmerman is besting Harper in batting average, ISO, runs created and offensive WAR. Even though Harper is the most recognizable bat in the Nationals lineup, Zimmerman has quickly become the most feared.

Zimmerman is slashing .344/.644/1.029 with 19 home runs and 59 RBI, and is near the top of the league in just about every offensive category. Only Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt have a lower strikeout rate, and only Buster Posey has a higher batting average.

The Nats slugger has spent his entire 13-year career with Washington and is currently tied for the franchise lead in home runs with Vladimir Gurerro at 234. He’s already eclipsed his 2016 season totals in just 70 games this year.

Large shadows to overcome

But there are two looming shadows which might derail Zimmerman’s chances of winning the MVP award – the Nats bullpen, and Harper’s popularity.

Zimmerman’s production so far is enough to keep him in the discussion year-round, but voters typically reward winning over numbers. This is arguably why Kris Bryant won the award last season over Arenado. If the Colorado Rockies had made the playoffs, the discussion may have been different.

The Nationals currently have an 8.5-game lead in the NL East, and by all accounts are the strongest team in the division. However, their bullpen has been terrible, at best. Their collective 4.98 ERA is the second-worst in the league, and they are one of two relief corps which has a negative WAR. Even so, they are the second largest cloud hanging over Zimmerman’s MVP hopes.

Harper, Harper, Harper…

Last season, Harper had the 15th most popular jersey in MLB even though he had a down year. But it’s hard to argue that there is a more important bat in the Nationals lineup than their first baseman’s.

Zimmerman’s bat has greatly benefited Harper. By hitting behind the right fielder, pitchers are forced to choose which slugger to attack. Last season, with Zimmerman out of the lineup for more than half the year, Harper slashed .243/.441/.814. This season, those numbers have spiked. Without Zimmerman, the Nationals lineup loses its Murderer’s Row-type potency in the heart of the order.

Staying healthy

One of the biggest criticisms of Zimmerman is how injury prone he has been the past couple of years. He’s only played in 140 or more games in six of his 13 career seasons. However, that all has changed, according to the Washington Post.

Zimmerman’s old mantra was “go hard on every play,” even though that was a primary factor in his fluky injury past. Now, Zimmerman says, he’s learned how to play hard in moderation, taking tips from Seattle’s Robinson Cano.

“When you’re 22 years old, you can [go full-out on every play],” Zimmerman said. “When you’re 32 years old — well, the age isn’t really the thing… I think I’ve learned that.”

Vegas currently has Zimmerman as a +1200 underdog to win the MVP race. For you betting types, this is one to keep your eyes on.

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