Zimmerman best in state at hitting streaks

August 30, 2009 

Considering that he plays for the Washington Nationals, it's only fitting that third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was born in Washington. Washington, N.C., that is.

Located east of Greenville, the town of about 10,000 has produced one of baseball's best young hitters. In just four seasons, Zimmerman already has three hitting streaks of 15 games or longer, including a 30-game streak that is the longest in the majors this year.

In fact, that 30-game hitting streak is the longest by any player ever born in North Carolina. Among other North Carolinians, only Luke Appling (27 games in 1926) and Johnny Temple (23 games in 1960-61) are even within a week of matching Zimmerman's mark. Appling was born in High Point; Temple in Lexington.

And if you're one for inter-Carolinas rivalry, Zimmerman also beats South Carolina's longest streak, which is 28 games by the banned-for-life Shoeless Joe Jackson.

In major league history, about one in every 45 major leaguers was born in North Carolina, yet Tar Heel natives account for only two of the 206 hitting streaks of 25 games or longer in major league history.

If Zimmerman is going to help North Carolina make up ground in the hitting streak column, he'll need to combine some good luck with good hitting.

But it would be too simple to chalk up Zimmerman's hitting streak prowess to just being a consistent hitter. When it comes to hitting streaks, one of his most important attributes is his lack of patience.

PATIENCE IS NOT A VIRTUE

Over his career, only about 8 percent of Zimmerman's plate appearances have resulted in walks. The more walks a batter gets, the fewer chances he has to smack a base hit and extend a hitting streak.

Take Ted Williams.

His career batting average is 58 points higher than Zimmerman's, yet the Splendid Splinter had only one hitting streak of 20 games during his 19-year career. The reason? He walked 20 percent of the time.

Williams had 2,256 games in his career in which he had an at-bat, and he got a hit in 1,633 of those games, meaning that he hit safely in 72.4 percent of his games. As amazing a hitter as Williams was, he's been beaten by Zimmerman, who's gotten a hit in 74.2 percent of his career games.

The fact that Zimmerman is more likely than Ted Williams to get a hit in any given game illustrates an important point about hitting streaks: A walk is as good as a strikeout.

BATTING ORDER MATTERS

Another of Zimmerman's secret weapons is his spot in the batting order. The higher in the order, the more plate appearances a batter gets.

Over the course of a season, a third-place hitter like Zimmerman will get about 2 percent more at-bats than a fourth-place hitter.

It doesn't seem like 2 percent would mean very much. But over the course of 162 games, hitting in the three-hole means that Zimmerman is twice as likely to have a 30-game hitting streak than if he were to bat fourth in the lineup.

Of course, extra at-bats can only help but so much.

It still takes a player who can get hits like Zimmerman to actually put together a long hitting streak.

And even if the Nationals continue to be the worst team in the majors, and even if Zimmerman never puts together another 20-game hitting streak, he can still boast of one distinguished accomplishment: He is already North Carolina's all-time hitting streak king.

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