- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009

There was plenty of complicated statistical evidence that suggested Ryan Zimmerman was the National League’s best defensive third baseman this season.

Despite his impressive baseball IQ, though, the Washington Nationals star doesn’t get caught up in arcane measurements like range factor and ultimate zone rating.

“I don’t look at any advanced stats,” he said. “To be honest with you, I just try to get every single ball that comes my way.”

Perhaps the NL managers and coaches who handed Zimmerman his first Gold Glove Award on Wednesday based their decision not only on numbers but also on what they saw with their own eyes. In either case, it was tough not to go with Zimmerman as the NL’s top defensive player at the hot corner.

The entire sport took notice of Zimmerman’s flair for the dramatic and his ability to get to balls few other players could this season. He led all major leaguers in “Web Gems” shown on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” and also led all third basemen in assists (325) and total chances (459).

Regarded as a defensive star since the day the Nationals drafted him in 2005, Zimmerman now has a gold-plated copy of his Rawlings glove to showcase on his mantel.

“Defense was kind of my claim to fame when I got drafted that high, and they thought I’d develop into an offensive player,” he said. “It’s always been a big part of my game. I worked hard at it. And I take a lot of pride in it. So it’s a huge honor and one of the best individual honors you can get, according to me.”

The 25-year-old beat out the San Diego Padres’ Kevin Kouzmanoff, who set a major league record for third basemen by posting a .990 fielding percentage, having committed only three errors. Zimmerman, meanwhile, committed 17 errors, equating to a .963 fielding percentage.

The managers and coaches, though, recognized that Zimmerman made far more plays than Kouzmanoff because of his exceptional range. Kouzmanoff had only 311 total chances this season compared with Zimmerman’s 459.

Perhaps the best measure of Zimmerman’s fielding brilliance is ultimate zone rating, an advanced metric that essentially measures how many runs a defensive player saved over the course of a season. Zimmerman’s UZR this year was 18.1, third best among all major league players regardless of position. Kouzmanoff’s UZR was 7.5.

In earning this season’s award, Zimmerman unseated two-time winner David Wright of the New York Mets, a childhood friend from the Tidewater, Va., area and a teammate on a traveling All-Star team in high school. Not wanting to be disappointed the way he was three years ago when he lost the NL rookie of the year vote to Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez by one point, Zimmerman avoided any speculation about this potential honor before finding out he won Wednesday.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t even think about it,” he said. “I remember the last time I sat around and waited to see if I won something, I came up short to Hanley in the rookie of the year thing. So I’ve been just doing what I usually do, just hanging out. To hear this news and to win something like this, it was very exciting for me and for my family.”

Zimmerman could be honored again Thursday when the NL Silver Slugger Awards are revealed. He enjoyed the best offensive season of his career as well, hitting 33 homers, driving in 106 runs, batting .292 and scoring 110 times. Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds, Zimmerman’s former college teammate at Virginia, is favored to win, though, after leading all players at the position with 44 homers.

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