Florida Marlins v. Washington Nationals

There is no fate worse than peaking early. One of my good high school friends was bigger than everyone else at 11-years old, which is to say he was the best athlete at 11. He was the star of the baseball and hockey teams because he was big and coordinated, a deadly combination during the nascent days of puberty.

Unfortunately, that high level of athletic achievement at such a tender age took its toll. My dear friend blew out his shoulder as a teenager and was never the same. Watching poor Ian gather, hop and throw only to see the ball limply roll from his fingertips wasn’t easy, though it got pretty funny when we are all too old to play house league baseball.

This friend of mine might as well be Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman was really good until his shoulder exploded. Now he’s back (and inevitably full of cortisone!) with a brand new throwing motion, one designed to jib with his wonky shoulder. The early results are…terrifying?

Ryan Zimmerman made a terrific play early in Stephen Strasburg‘s OD start, diving to his left to snare a hot two-hopper off the bat of Placido Polance. Zimmerman saved a run with his quick reflexes, grabbing the shot before hopping to his feet to fire across the infield to end the inning and snuff the first inning threat.

Perhaps “fired” isn’t the most accurate way to describe that throw by Zimmerman. Looped? Spun? Windmilled? Adam Kilgore of the Nationals PR department Washington Post described it as “sidewinding” – fair yet charitable.

To me, that throw looks awful. Great play, ugly throw. A diving play isn’t the best time to make a fair assessment of a player’s throwing ability, admittedly. But that is a goofy-looking throwing motion, isn’t it? Even the ghost of Scott Rolen didn’t look like that when he scraped through the final years of his sparkling career without much in the way of shoulder mobility.

MASN, the Nationals official broadcaster, covered the team extensively this spring. Having watched quite a few spring games, something looked “up” with Zimmerman’s arm. Later in the Nats first game of the year, he showed off his funky new throwing motion on a more routine play.

Hop. Hop. Hop. Hop hop hophophophophop. Throw. That looks like a man who would rather do just about anything else other than throw the ball across the infield. Given all the time he has to make it, this routine throw comes in below first baseman Adam LaRoche‘s knees.

Over the last three seasons, Ryan Zimmerman ranks right in the middle for DRS and UZR/150 among qualified third baseman. His numbers favor his range and ability to make great plays than his arm or ability to start double plays. How much will this newer, slower, throwing motion effect him?

I’m guessing quite a bit. In addition to the physical strain, the cascading effects of needing extra time to gather…gather…gather…and send a looping throw across the diamond will rear its ugly head. The Nats are a very strong defensive club around the diamond, though the hot corner might end up being their weakest spot. It is, at very least, a situation which bears monitoring. Will his arm cost the Nats runs or, more key to their interests, cost Stephen Strasburg more pitches?

Doomsday scenario: Ryan Zimmerman is signed through 2019, with an option for 2020. Can his move to first base wait until Adam LaRoche’s two-year contract expires after the 2014 season? LaRoche’s option for 2015 is a mutual one, perhaps Zimmerman’s balky shoulder will force the issue and make the Nats decision for them.

Again, Doomsday scenarios. Maybe he can make a completely unique way of throwing from every other third basemen in the long history of the great game of baseball work? Why not, really? There is always room for the first underhanded tossing Gold Glover, why not the home of #NATITUDE! WE GIVE NO CARES ABOUT THROWING LIKE YOU MEAN IT! NATITUDE, DUDE.