No More Nomar?

Thinking back over the last decade or so, it is tough to consider any player with elite talent yet a proneness to injuries more frustrating or disappointing than Mark Prior. One player that could give Prior a run for his money, though, is Nomar Garciaparra, who staked claim as one of the top shortstops in baseball for several seasons before falling off the map due to health issues. Following several injury-plagued seasons, Garciaparra is legitimately considering retirement against joining either the Athletics or Phillies.

Nomar burst onto the scene in 1997 by hitting 30 home runs, 44 doubles, and posting a .375 wOBA as a rookie. Not shockingly at all he went onto win the Rookie of the Year award and actually finished 8th in MVP voting. He successfully avoided the sophomore slump by launching 35 longballs in 1998, finishing 2nd in MVP voting on the heels of a .401 wOBA.

His production improved further in the subsequent two seasons, to the tune of .436 and .432 wOBA marks, respectively. As you might have imagined, he finished in the top ten in MVP voting in each of these years. Then, in 2001, Nomar missed most of the season with an injury, a sign of what was to come even though most chose to ignore its rammifications.

Nomar bounced back in 2002 and 2003 with wOBAs of .373 and .371, still very solid production albeit nowhere near the 1999-2000 seasons. Fortunately, our Win Values begin here, giving us a glimpse of what Nomar may have been worth in his first four seasons. In 2002 and 2003, Garciaparra played well enough to be worth +5.5 and +5.7 wins, while losing some range thanks to injury issues and suffering an offensive decline from his 1997-2000 campaigns.

With this in mind, it isn’t hard to believe that, with better fielding and the previously discussed gaudy offensive numbers, Nomar could have been worth around +6 wins as a rookie, +6.5 as a sophomore, and over +7 wins as a junior and senior. Unfortunately, a quick look at his Win Values now shows a +5.5 win player who suffered a drastic dropoff in performance and struggled to stay on the field. Ultimately, with almost equal time as a tremendous player and one not in the lineup more often than he was, Nomar’s legacy has become quite comparable to my favorite NBA player of all time: Grant Hill.

Both are players who, when at the top of their respective games, were all-stars, MVP contenders, faces of the league, and considered heir apparents to the greats of the game. As we know, both fell by the wayside due to injuries, yet have hung on in vastly reduced roles over the last few seasons. I would like to avoid having a Hall of Fame discussion, however, so I will instead focus on what Nomar could bring to the table in 2009.

He is no longer a starter, but his ability to play 1B, 3B, and occasionally fill in at SS—a -5 UZR/150 at SS in 2008 is not that bad—make him a very versatile bench player. On top of that, he can still hit lefties, with a .339/.424/.643 line against southpaws last season. As long as the Phillies and Athletics avoid paying him starter-type money or relying on him in their overall seasonal scheme, he will be a very solid addition.

The Phillies apparently don’t want to get involved in a bidding war with Billy Beane for Garciaparra’s serviced, and the Athletics are offering more of a chance to play, making it likely that Oakland would be his destination should he choose to prolong his career. Then again, the Phillies just won the World Series and he may decide to end his career with a contending team in the hopes that they repeat.

Either way, I feel that Nomar deserves to have the first half of his career remembered just as much as the more recent years, a call that will go unanswered by many current fans, I fear. He was one of the best players in the game for a four-year stretch, but it has become increasingly hard to believe that we ever engaged in those classic A-Rod/Jeter/Nomar debates.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

13 Responses to “No More Nomar?”

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  1. mojowo11 says:

    Just wanted to say that I reached the end of the first sentence and Rich Harden immediately came to mind. I guess Harden isn’t quite as low on the “disappointing” scale as Prior/Nomar since he’s still technically pitching at a high level. But frankly, I consider him the best pitcher in baseball when healthy, and yet he’s never managed 200 innings and has managed 150 only once. That’s disappointing in my mind.

    Hell, Harden has a 2.56 ERA since 2005, but he’s only thrown 348.1 innings in that span. And he’s practically a two-pitch pitcher: 93% of his pitches are either his fastball or his changeup. I saw him throw a 90 MPH changeup once and have the guy out on his front foot thanks to the 100 MPH heaters its accompanied — grain of salt for the radar gun, of course. Regardless…imagine if he could stay healthy! 4.5 win player in 148 innings last year. He’d be a monster over 200 innings.

    Off topic, though. Sorry.

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    • scatterbrian says:

      I submit the main reason Harden wasn’t included is because he wasn’t in a big enough market. He easily has/had All-Star/elite talent, as well as the injury proneness. He just didn’t disappoint as many fans as in Chicago or Boston.

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  2. Jim says:

    Thank you, Eric. I have been waiting for someone else to say this since Nomar was crucified by “Red Sox Nation” and shipped out of town. I was sad to see him go them, and it’s sad that he was never able to get his career on track. I still remember listening to the game on the radio when the Red Sox scored 20 + runs against Tampa Bay and he hit 3 homeruns. Why does everybody else just remember the few errors in his last games in a Red Sox uniform?

    That’s the thing I hate about Red Sox fans, even though I am one. They are very quick to turn on a player and don’t let up. Coco Crisp, Julio Lugo are others that come to mind…

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    • scatterbrian says:

      shit, what about Manny? No matter what Peter Gammons says went on behind the scenes, Without Manny, the Red Sox probably wouldn’t have won those two World Series.

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  3. StupidAnkle/Arm says:

    As an Orlando Magic and Cub fan I would like to thank you for the rehashing those memories…

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  4. Joe says:

    Jim, I never turned on Nomar. But he did turn down a rather generous contract offer if I recall. And I posted a comment on this already, but left my website in the box, so it probably needs to be reviewed or something. Nomar made some pretty crazy looking throws, but was still one of the best players in the game for a 6-7 year period. I will never forget that. I still love watching him hit, although not against Brad Lidge :) But he is my favorite player ever.

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  5. BD says:

    “I would like to avoid having a Hall of Fame discussion . . .”

    Then your choice of Garciaparra as the subject of the post was a wise one.

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  6. MBD says:

    Note that Nomar was also strong against lefties in 2006 (.341/.420/.600). Even with his terrible 2007 campaign, his 3-year numbers vs LHPs are pretty good (.289/.368/.502). But he can’t do much against righties anymore; his OBP against them for the last 3 years is .339, and in 2008 it was .270.

    Also, he used to get better as the game went on. From 2000 through 2008, he led all hitters (min 150 PAs) in batting average in the 9th inning – .362 (full line is .362/.404/.558). But those numbers are built on his success from 2000 through his 2006 comeback year. Over the last 2 years, his 9th-inning numbers (over 47 ABs) have dropped to .234/.280/.383. In short, you’re better off taking him out against righties and/or in the final frame, perhaps against someone like Lidge. ;-)

    Side note: Recently, Ryan Howard has been equally bad in the 9th (.170/.295/.307 over the past 2 years), while Giambi has been fine (.262/.368/.462). Daric Barton (numbers are mostly from 2008) has this line in the 9th: .143/.308/.238. Pedro Feliz has a 9th-inning OBP of .305 over the last 2 years, and Eric Chavez (limited action) has an OBP of .205! So among the likely replacements for Nomar in the 9th on the Phillies and A’s (assuming the pinch hitter will play Garciaparra’s position), only Giambi looks promising. Nomar would appear to be an upgrade over the others in the 9th, especially in the power department, except that his limited pinch-hit numbers over the last 3 years (25 PAs) show that he can take a walk but has no power coming off the bench (.176/.391/.176 – not a typo).

    I’d say Nomar is best as a starter against lefties who comes out after 6 innings, which would work well if the LHP also left the game around that time.

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    • don says:

      Do they throw specialist righty relievers at Nomar, or is that just an artifact of very small sample size? One extra bloop single over 47ABs increases the BA by more than .020. A guy like Howard, it’s the fact that in late innings they’ll make sure he sees a lefty and he can’t hit them.

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      • MBD says:

        I think it’s because Nomar wears down over the course of the game. His best numbers in recent years come in the 5th inning, after he’s seen the starter a couple times but before he gets tired. In the 6th, he starts to fall off, and the trend continues through the 9th. In his younger days, he feasted on relievers and tired starters in the late innings.

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    • Paul Thomas says:

      Eric Chavez has one of the most pronounced platoon splits of anybody in baseball. If he’s hitting in the 9th inning, it’s invariably against either a lefty reliever or the other team’s closer. This is why he is considered “unclutch”, btw.

      Curtis Granderson has the same problem.

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  7. Rob in CT says:

    It is too bad about Nomar. I used to really enjoy those Jeter/Nomar debates. I’m a Yanks fan and I used to have long debates with a Sox fan friend about the relative merits of the two SS’s. I though Nomar was the superior player. He preferred Jeter. I believe I was right until the wrist injury… and even after that (but before the injuries started to really pile up) I bet it was close.

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