On Sept. 1, 2005, 20-year-old Ryan Zimmerman -- just 85 days after he had been selected in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft -- made his Major League debut. That day, in the top of the seventh inning and with the visiting club down by four runs, Zimmerman pinch-hit for pitcher Jason Bergmann, stepped into the batter's box against the Braves' Jim Brower, and ... struck out. The baseball world got much brighter for Zimmerman after that first misstep, however.
Over his next 19 games (which took the third baseman to the end of the season), Zimmerman hit safely in 14 of them, had seven multi-hit games and finished his first cup of coffee in the big leagues with an impressive .397 batting average and 162 OPS+ (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, compared to the league average and adjusted for ballpark).
Curiously, the one big box Zimmerman was unable to check off in that first go-around was "hit a home run." Of his 23 hits, 13 were singles and 10 went for two bases. Since then, besides showing himself to be a wonderful all-around talent and one of the best young third basemen in the game, Zimmerman has shown a tendency for the dramatic when it comes to hitting home runs.
On June 18, 2006 -- less than a year after his Major League debut -- Zimmerman stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with his team losing, 2-1. The tying run was on first, there was one out in the inning, and Yankees right-hander Chien-Ming Wang was on the mound. Wang, the possessor of one of the heaviest and toughest-to-lift sinking fastballs in the game, had induced 17 ground-ball double plays while surrendering only four home runs all year long. But instead of grounding into a game-ending double play and giving Wang his first career complete game, Zimmerman jumped on the first pitch, lifted it into the seats at RFK Stadium, and gave the Nationals a 3-2 victory.
Since then, Zimmerman has ended six other games (including the first regular season game ever played at Nationals Park) with a home run. The seven walk-off home runs are tied for 27th most since 1950, and tied, with Boston's David Ortiz, for the most in the big leagues since 2005.
Zimmerman's former teammate Adam Dunn is next on the list with six, tied with Andre Ethier of the Dodgers.
Most walk-off home runs since 2005
Zimmerman's game encompasses much more than theatrical homers to end ballgames, of course. Through his first six seasons, he has amassed quite a nice body of work, and entering the 2011 season, Zimmerman stands as the cornerstone the Nationals ballclub. In 744 career games, he has collected 833 hits (321 of them for extra-bases), an .839 OPS and a 121 OPS+. Additionally, he has won two Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove, has been named to an All-Star team and was second in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2006.
Zimmerman has four fewer extra-base hits than Mike Schmidt had through his first six seasons, placing him ninth among third basemen since 1901. His OPS+ ranks 12th among third basemen during their first half-dozen seasons. Both lists are headed by Eddie Mathews, who had 402 extra-base hits and a 154 OPS+ in his first six years; also figuring prominently on those lists are David Wright (375 extra-base hits, ranks second), Wade Boggs (148 OPS+, ranks third) and Ron Santo (340 extra-base hits, ranks fourth).
Zimmerman is tied with Mathews, Santo and George Brett for the youngest members on those lists; each member of that quartet completed his age-25 season when he had banked his sixth Major League season.
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In 2010, Nationals starting pitcher Livan Hernandez pitched 211 innings, won 10 games, compiled a 3.66 ERA (and 110 ERA+), completed two games, threw a shutout (his first since July 30, 2004), allowed 0.68 home runs per nine innings, and struck out 114 batters while walking 64.
All of these numbers (and others) translated into 3.4 Wins Above Replacement for Hernandez -- the highest value for him since 2004, when, pitching for the Montreal Expos, he had a 5.0 WAR. Wins Above Replacement signifies the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement player would add. Hernandez's 3.4 WAR in 2010 tied him with Orlando Hernandez (his half-brother) in 2002 for the 30th most-valuable season by a Cuban-born starting pitcher.
Highest career WAR, Cuban-born starting pitchers
Dolf Luque's 1923 seasons stands as the gold standard for WAR among Cuban-born hurlers; he posted a total of 9.9 WAR while winning 27 games and posting a 1.93 ERA. Luis Tiant posted several of the top-10 seasons on that list -- his 1974 season (7.5 WAR, second place), 1968 (7.2, fourth), 1976 (5.9, seventh) and 1973 (5.4, ninth) also warrant mention. Hernandez's 2003 season (5.3 WAR) is 10th on the list.
With his 3.4-WAR season in 2010, Livan Hernandez passed Orlando Hernandez and now sits fifth all-time for highest WAR by a Cuban-born starting pitcher, 23.9 (60 percent of career appearances as a starter). If he can replicate his 2010 campaign in 2011, he will move close to matching Mike Cuellar for fourth all-time.
Unsurprisingly, Tiant heads that list with 60.1 career WAR, followed by Luque (40.2), Camilo Pascual (33.4) and Cuellar (29.9).
Roger Schlueter is a senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.