- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ryan Zimmerman won his first Rawlings Gold Glove award on Wednesday, yet another affirmation of the finest season of the Washington Nationals third baseman’s career to date.

Zimmerman, regarded as an exceptional defensive player by the Nationals from the moment they drafted him out of Virginia in 2005, now has been recognized by the rest of the baseball world for his work in the field. The Gold Gloves are awarded based on the votes of managers and coaches from that players league, conducted near the end of the season.

“Defense was kind of my claim to fame when I got drafted that high, and they thought I’d develop into an offensive player. 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.”

National League coaches clearly took notice of Zimmerman’s flair for the dramatic and his ability to get to balls few other players could. He led all major leaguers in “Web Gems” shown on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” and also led all big league third basemen in assists (325).

Zimmerman, 25, beat out the San Diego Padre’s 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.

NL voters, though, recognized that Zimmerman made far more plays than Kouzmanoff because of his exceptional range. Zimmerman had 459 total chances in the field this season. Kouzmanoff had only 311.

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.

The Gold Glove voting process has long been criticized, viewed by skeptics as nothing more than a popularity contest that often rewards players more for offense than defense. In that regard, Zimmerman may have helped his cause by enjoying the best all-around season of his four-year career. He set career highs with 33 homers, a .292 average and 110 runs scored, earning his first All-Star Game appearance.

• Mark Zuckerman can be reached at mzuckerman@washingtontimes.com.

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