Yesterday, I took part (along with Jonah Keri and 28 other contributors to ESPN’s baseball section) in a Franchise Player Draft. We were tasked with selecting one player who we would want to build our franchise around, and in this hypothetical world, actual contract status was irrelevant. I ended up drawing the fourth pick in the draft, giving me an embarrassment of riches to select from, especially after my request to trade down was denied.
By the time my pick was up, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, and Felix Hernandez were off the board. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get a crack at Tulo, who was a pretty easy call as the first player selected. I figured Longoria would probably be gone as well, and wasn’t surprised at all when Keith Law snapped him up. David Schoenfeld made my life easier by taking Felix, which meant that I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I should consider drafting a pitcher – the only one worthy of that kind of selection in my mind was already gone, allowing me to focus on a handful of elite position players to choose from.
As you see in the link, I ended up taking Joey Votto, who I would say is the safest bet of any player in baseball to produce at an elite level going forward. He’s right there with Albert Pujols and Jose Bautista for the title of best hitter in baseball, he’s several younger than both of them, and he just keeps getting better each season he’s in the big leagues. Votto is the no-risk choice, and I’d argue that minimizing risk in this kind of situation is more important than trying to split hairs between which great player is marginally greater. I had a chance to get an elite player no matter which direction I went, so I focused on getting a player who was almost certainly going to produce at a premium level rather than rolling the dice looking for extra mythical upside.
That said, my selection of Votto wasn’t a clear cut choice. In the end, I narrowed my selection down to five players, choosing Votto over Hanley Ramirez, Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, and Ryan Zimmerman. Obviously, my board was quite a bit different than most of the others drafting, as Ramirez went #20, Bautista #26 (to the other FanGraphs author in the draft, which is likely not a coincidence), and both Cabrera and Zimmerman went unselected. I was surprised that Cabrera wasn’t picked, but given his issues with alcohol, I can somewhat understand the drafters going other directions. After all, if others were also looking to minimize risk, there are a lot of great players who don’t have some of the baggage that Cabrera brings to the table. I think everyone realizes how great of a hitter he is, but my guess is that he was left unselected because of his off the field issues.
Zimmerman, though, apparently needs a new PR representative. If Schoenfeld had selected Votto, I probably would have taken Zimmerman ahead of the other three runners-up in the discussion with myself. Instead, he’s hanging out with Cabrera in the voting for biggest snub.
Really, though, what else could Zimmerman do to get noticed? I’m not the first person to mention this, but if you like Evan Longoria, you should like Zimmerman, because they’re the exact same player.
Longoria, 2009-2011: .284/.367/.510, 134 wRC+, +36.3 UZR, +16.6 WAR
Zimmerman, 2009-2011: .300/.378/.518, 137 wRC+, +28.8 UZR, +15.1 WAR
The gap in value is entirely the result of Longoria getting more playing time this year due a shorter DL stint, but they’re essentially twins. Their numbers across the board are the same no matter what category you look at – walk rate, strikeout rate, power, defense, whatever. Zimmerman is a year older and currently on the disabled list, but he’s still younger than most other players selected and a current lack of health didn’t stop Josh Johnson, Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, or Stephen Strasburg from being drafted. Zimmerman’s abdominal strain is not a long term concern, and so I find it hard to believe that it played a major role in his snubbing.
Instead, it seems like Zimmerman simply suffers from a lack of national exposure. Longoria has played in the World Series and had the national spotlight shined upon him in the process, while Zimmerman has spent his career playing for losing teams in Washington. He didn’t burst on the scene with a strong debut, but instead has taken the slower path of improving each year he’s been in the big leagues. He’s not a commanding personality, and even on his own team, has been overshadowed by the likes of Adam Dunn and Stephen Strasburg. Pretty soon, he’ll also have to share the spotlight with Bryce Harper.
With the focus on his teammates, it can be easy to forget that Zimmerman is the Nationals best player, and one of the best players in the game. He may have gotten ignored yesterday, but he deserves to be mentioned in any conversation of cornerstone franchise players.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.