Is what I could be saying in just a couple days.
The Nats continue to play quality baseball, and while the season has had it's ups and downs, the ups climb higher than the downs dig low. A 2-6 run, followed by a 8-3 sprint. The Marlins don't look talented enough to make go at it, and the Mets are too injured. Honestly I would be surprised if this thing doesn't get called by week's end. But we'll still wait. Cleveland is a formidable opponent and if the Nats stumble for some reason against the Braves they'll be travelling to Colorado probably facing a team desperate for wins. Meanwhile the Mets play nobody (ARI, SD, @ARI) and the Marlins, well they play a decent schedule (SF, CHW, @CIN) but nothing crushing.
This is the last stand for the other teams in the NL East. Gain ground now, keep it in the 6 games out area until H2Hs come back, or cede the division. That's how I feel.
Going through our questions - the Nats can start to look toward shoring up the team's holes and arguably their biggest hole is at first base*. Zimmerman has had a terrible year. While the power is still sorta there and he's walking just a little bit less than he usually does, he is hitting a mere .222, rather than the .280+ he seemed to settle into after his MVP worthy peak.** This turns a guy from a fringe All-Star to an Espinosa. Behind him, Clint Robinson, who filled in ably last year, has seen his production plummet across the board.
Is there any coming back from these drops? For Zimm, it's hard to believe so. You could point to a low BABIP (.247) and the fact that his batted ball stats (GB/FB rate, where he hits it, how hard he hits it) don't look all that different to suggest he may hit again. But I would point to the fact that the things that are changing are not just a single year anomaly but part of a larger trend. That BABIP? It was low last year (.268). His LD% is dropping like a rock, suggesting he can't square up on the ball. To back that up I see an increased swinging strike rate up to the highest of his career. Worse yet, the "pitch value" scores, numbers that try to tell how well a player hits certain pitches, shows a player having increased difficulty with a basic fastball.
If this were really an issue - that he can't hit a good fastball anymore that it should show up in power/finesse splits***. How do the power/finesse stats look? You may want to shield your eyes and remove small children from the room.
vs. Power : .104 / .167 / .194 for an OPS of .361
If it makes you feel any better, he hits those finesse guys well! (.278 / .353 / .478)
There is one last thing. If he really couldn't hit the fastball they could just throw high heat right by him. Onto the great Brooks Baseball to see his Whiff Rate on Hard Pitches.
Maybe it is an injury thing, but right now Ryan Zimmerman is simply not a capable major leaguer hitter.
So what about Robinson? Well he's having a similar mix of issues. Low BABIP (.211) likely driven by a low LD rate (11.4%) and trouble with the fast ball. Unlike Zimm though, there is no trend downward. These numbers are not just low but they are conspicuously so. It's 152 PAs or a little over a month worth's of games. All that would have me lean toward "not enough evidence - assume it's just a fluke issue". I'm not saying Robinson is going to light the world on fire, but I do think if put into a regular every day role at first base he should be about league average.
Is that good enough? For most teams no, but for the Nats it should be fine. They are getting best in the majors performance from catcher and second base, so a first baseman that only hits ok is workable. However, the Nats are not going in this direction. Instead they are shifting Murphy, moving Turner back to the IF and putting Revere back in the game. I don't think that's the right move. Revere has had basically twice as many PAs as Robinson and has shown himself to be completely incapable at the plate. There are no signs it is getting better, in fact he's hitting worse. And while Robinson gives you some pop and patience, Revere is all average. If he isn't hitting, and he isn't, he is a complete zero at the plate. While this improves the defense, I think the Nats are adding a dangerous hole to a line-up that with Espy's troubles could find itself with a gaping bottom third heading into the playoffs.
Give Robinson a true shot. 2-3 weeks. During this time let Revere rest (I believe his drop off is too severe and sudden not to be injury related) If Robinson is ok by the end, let him keep at it. If not, give Revere a shot I guess. Zimmerman? He's done. At least for this year. The Nats have 3 more seasons to think about. Shut it down.
*Only Phillies have had a worst 1B situation and that's the moldering corpse of Ryan Howard.
**Seriously. Disregard the vote totals because they are driven by the wins of the team. He wasn't better than Pujols, but for a brief 2-years span (09-10) Ryan Zimmerman was a Top 5 player in the game.
***Power guys strikeout a lot of guys but walk a lot of guys. Finesse guys do neither. This works pretty well as a measure of power because strikeouts generally drive this number.