After a big 2009, what's next for Washington's Ryan Zimmerman?

We all have questions about the 2010 season and luckily Alex Remington has some answers. The Stew's resident stats guru will address a few per week as Opening Day approaches.

The Situation: Everyone knows that Stephen Strasburg(notes) is the hottest member of the Washington Nationals, but Ryan Zimmerman(notes) put up MVP-type numbers last year, hitting 33 homers with a .292 batting average, winning his first Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, being named to the All-Star team and establishing himself as arguably the best third baseman in the National League. Zimmerman had 7.1 Wins Above Replacement, essentially tied with Tampa Bay 3B Evan Longoria(notes) and far ahead of any other third baseman in baseball. It was the fifth-highest WAR mark in the National League, behind only Albert Pujols(notes), Tim Lincecum(notes), Chase Utley(notes) and Hanley Ramirez(notes). With Chipper Jones'(notes) career in its twilight and the questions surrounding David Wright(notes) in New York, Zimmerman is the surest meal ticket at the hot corner in not only his own division, but also the league.

The Question: After a monster 2009, what's next for Ryan Zimmerman?

The Analysis: Going forward, Adrian Beltre is probably the worst-case scenario for Nationals fans to envision. Like Zimmerman, Beltre came up to the majors at a young age and was noted for his defense before his bat really came around. When he was a 25-year-old Dodger, Beltre dwarfed his previous offensive efforts and exploded for 48 homers, a .334 batting average, second place in the MVP and signed a $64 million contract that offseason with the Mariners. Then he went to a tough hitter's park in Safeco Field and he averaged a .266 batting average and 20 homers a year over the balance of the contract.

The best case scenario, meanwhile, is probably Philadelphia's Michael Jack Schmidt, who had an OPS+ of 90 at ages 22 and 23, then hit 36 homers and made his first All-Star team at 24.

Zimmerman doesn't have Schmidt's raw power, but he does a better job controlling the strike zone than Beltre, drawing more walks, seeing more pitches per plate appearance, and swinging at many fewer pitches outside the strike zone. It's a good bet that his career numbers will stay somewhere between those two poles.

A more pressing question might be if Zimmerman is a 30-home run stalwart with room to grow. The answer to that is "probably" because he's still just 25.

That's not to say that Zimmerman doesn't have areas he needs to improve. His plate discipline isn't elite, as he walked in 10.4 percent of his plate appearances last year, for a .364 OBP, and only has a .347 OBP for his career. But his walks increased last year as his power increased, and his strikeouts stayed constant, exactly what you want to see for a young, improving player.

As Eno Sarris wrote in the FanGraphs Second Opinion fantasy baseball guide: "All of his secondary statistics are eminently repeatable, should he stay healthy in the coming year." FanGraphs, CHONE, ZiPS and Bill James project him for 27+ homers and 93+ RBIs, with an OPS around .870. Not quite a great leap forward, but just a couple of points off what he produced last year.

The Forecast for 2010: As I've written before, I find the projection systems tend to be a bit shy. When faced with a player who could either hit .250 or .350, they're more likely to split the difference than pick an outcome on the endpoints. So I'll try to account for both the projection and the possibility. In all events, Ryan clearly has 30 home runs in his bat, and Nationals Park is a much better hitting park than old RFK was, so I'll go ahead and predict an even 30 home runs for him this year. He won't get much better until he can start drawing 75 or more walks a year consistently, so I think it's likely that his 2010 won't be much better than his 2009. But if he can shore up his plate discipline, his 2011 can be even better than 2010. Like Strasburg, he's a man the Nationals are lucky to have for the long haul.

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Other 2010 questions answered by Alex Remington

Can Pablo Sandoval improve on his impressive 2009?
Will anyone hit 50 home runs in 2010?
Will Marco Scutaro solve Boston's shortstop problem?
How many more wins will a healthy Beltran and Reyes bring the Mets?
What kind of difference will Jake Peavy make with the White Sox?

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