Rays Lucky That Evan Longoria Hasn’t Turned Into Ryan Zimmerman

Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria have a lot in common. Zimmerman and Longoria are two of the best third baseman in baseball but the comparison goes much further than that. Zimmerman and Longoria are almost exactly a year apart, with Zimmerman born on 9/28/84 and Longoria 10/5/85, and they were selected with almost the exact same pick in the draft, with Zimmerman going 4th overall to the Nationals in 2005 and Longoria going 3rd overall to the Devil Rays in 2006. (The Rays even happened to draft a different Ryan Zimmerman in the 19th round of 2005 draft.) Zimmerman finished second in the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year award while Longoria was the AL Rookie of the Year in 20008, and Zimmerman has two Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove while Longoria has two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger. Both also are signed to long team-friendly extensions, with Zimmerman’s totaling $135MM and Longoria’s paying him $136MM. There are clearly a lot of nice parallels between Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria. But there’s also one similarity that’s not so good: they’re both injury-prone.

Both Zimmerman and Longoria missed time with abdomen issues in 2011, with Zimmerman missing time after undergoing surgery to repair an abdominal tear while Longoria getting sidelined after straining his oblique. Then in 2012, Zimmerman missed a couple weeks with shoulder inflammation while Longoria missed three months with a hamstring strain. Both of them required offseason surgery. Luckily for the Rays, though, that’s where the parallel ends. So far this season, Longoria has been healthy playing like his old self for the Rays, managing a .292/.386/.438 line with 2 home runs in 57 plate appearances. Zimmerman, on the other hand, has struggled mightily, managing just a .226/.311/.358 line with 1 home run in 61 plate appearances. That slow start at the plate is something that can be easily dismissed–Zimmerman is a really good player and should rebound. His defensive issues are another matter. While Longoria is making dazzling plays and looks to be on the path to his third Gold Glove, Zimmerman leads all NL third baseman with 4 errors, and it’s not a matter of Zimmerman making more errors because he’s getting to balls other third baseman wouldn’t get. Zimmerman has been struggling simply making routine throws across the diamond. And as Danny Knobler of CBS Sports reported, the Nationals are concerned.

Zimmerman’s throwing has been an issue before, because of shoulder problems. He had 19 errors last year; only one third baseman in baseball had more.

But his shoulder is healthy now, and the problems have continued. Manager Davey Johnson told reporters on Wednesday that he doesn’t think Zimmerman’s troubles are mental. But if you thought a guy had a mental block about throwing, would you really want to talk about it?

Zimmerman’s shoulder surgery did not take away his ability to throw to first base. What is happening is that Zimmerman is having some type of mental issue. Zimmerman admitted the other day that he has no physical issue hampering him from throwing to first base but is instead having a mental block that is preventing him from making good throws, something that has caused him to get exceedingly frustrated and approach his teammates for help. However, while Zimmerman’s shoulder issues have not been the direct source of his throwing problems, there has been a direct association.

That’s not just speculation- Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said straight-out to Jon Heyman that Zimmerman returned to his original arm angle after adjusting it because of his shoulder injury. Zimmerman’s injury forced him to change arm slot, after adjusting his arm slot, Zimmerman lost his feel for throwing to first base even though his shoulder was healthy. Is that something that Zimmerman will able to get by? Zimmerman has been one of the best players to watch defensively in baseball, and you have to hope that he will be OK. But his defensive issues so far this season have incited plenty of concern even within Zimmerman and the Nationals front office and at this point we can’t be sure that Zimmerman will ever be the defensive third baseman he used to be.

Evan Longoria has been hurt a lot the last two years, playing in 133 games in 2011 and only 74 games in 2012. The good news for the Rays, though, is that for the most part, the injuries that have kept Longoria off the diamond have not affected him when he has returned. When he has been healthy, he has basically been as good of a player as usual all the time. Next injury, though, the Rays might not get so fortunate. The Rays have to find a way to keep Longoria healthy or before we know it, his story and Zimmerman’s might intersect once again, this time in the worst possible way.

Topics: Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Tampa Bay Rays, Washington Nationals

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