Struggles at third base could cause Ryan Zimmerman to change positions

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Ryan Zimmerman has struggled with his throws from third base all season following offseason shoulder surgery, committing a league-high 12 throwing errors while also rating very poorly in advanced defensive metrics.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson indicated yesterday that it could cause the former Gold Glove third baseman to eventually move across the diamond to first base, telling Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post:

I knew it was going to take until June, but obviously it’s taken longer. It’s more about him–if you see him throw early, he throws deeper and throws the ball on line. But 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. If that doesn’t get better, then obviously it’s not a good spot for him to be in. But at one time, he had a cannon. And we’re all waiting for him to come back and get over it.

Johnson also noted that he thinks Zimmerman’s range has declined because he’s playing in further to give himself shorter throws to make. Not exactly what you want to hear about a one-time stud third baseman whose six-year, $100 million extension doesn’t even kick in until next season.

Zimmerman is certainly a good enough hitter to make an impact at first base, but his overall value there would be considerably lower. This season MLB first basemen have a .773 OPS, compared to a .731 OPS from third basemen. Zimmerman has an .827 career OPS, including a .775 mark this year, so he’d go from being significantly above average at third base to slightly above average at first base. And his potential defensive contributions would drop too.