Wednesday, March 10, 2010
What if Nomar never got hurt?
By Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory
With Nomar Garciaparra announcing his retirement this morning, one can't help but wonder what might have been had the former Red Sox star not been riddled with injuries.
One of the "Holy Trinity" shortstops of the '90s, Nomar was expected to eventually give an acceptance speech in Cooperstown, and the only question was whether he, Jeter or A-Rod would get there first. At the end of the 2003 season, Nomar had a .323 lifetime batting average, 173 home runs, five All-Star appearances, and was a fixture on MVP ballots. Still just 30 years old, Nomar had already bounced back from the first serious setback of his career, a wrist injury that cost him the 2001 season.
However, in spring training 2004, Nomar's Achilles' heel turned out to be, well, his Achilles' heel. An Achilles tendon strain ended up dogging him throughout the 2004 season. While he played well, it wasn't up to his usual standards (his 113 OPS+ was the lowest of his career to that point) and he ended up being traded to the Cubs that July in a huge four-way deal. After spending his entire career in Boston, Nomar then had to watch the Sox sweep the Cardinals in the World Series.
So, why not pretend that 2004 never happened? Let's says Nomar never got hurt, stayed in Boston, cemented his status as one of the premier players of his era, and had a graceful final decade to his career.
Using ZiPS, a computer projection system that I developed, I decided to take a stab at speculating on what could have been. Taking Nomar's stats through the 2003 season, I projected a career trajectory for him, based on how other similar players have aged throughout baseball history.
For a shortstop, that's an easy Hall of Famer. Even taking into consideration that most players don't age as gracefully as Jeter has, we clearly missed a lot of great baseball from Nomar.
It's also not outside the realm of possibility that Garciaparra one day makes the Hall of Fame anyway. Garciaparra wouldn't be the first player to eventually make the Hall with a tremendous peak and an injury-shortened career (think Ralph Kiner). Hitting .313/.361/.521 in more than 6,000 plate appearances while mostly playing shortstop isn't anything to sneeze at.
Dan Szymborski is editor-in-chief of Baseball Think Factory.