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The news that Nomar Garciaparra retired this morning brought back an old argument that used to rage between Yankees and Red Sox fans: which club’s shortstop was better? In terms of career value, the obvious answer is Jeter, as he continues to play at a high level while Nomar is hanging up his spikes. The more interesting question is, which player was better during the time span from 1997-2004, when Nomar was manning shortstop for the Sox?
In terms of perception, the two players were fairly equal. Over the 8 year span, Jeter made 6 All-Star teams and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 4 times, while adding one Gold Glove. Meanwhile, Nomar made 5 All-Star teams but finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 5 times. From what I recall, the perception was that Nomar was a slightly flashier offensive player, but that Jeter was close in that regard and was more dependable in the clutch and a greater winner.
In terms of statistics, however, Nomar was almost certainly the better player over the period, and likely would have been recognized as such if the current statistical revolution had occurred 5-10 years earlier. Let’s take a look at the WAR numbers on both players, courtesy of baseballprojection.com:
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Jeter was worth exactly 41 wins above replacement from 1997 through 2004. Nomar was worth 41.5 wins over the span, despite playing just 21 games in 2001 and 81 games in 2004 due to injury. That means that when he was on the field, Nomar provided more value than Jeter did, with Derek’s poor defense towards the end of the period really hurting his overall WAR. However, the first part of that sentence is the real caveat here. If Nomar Garciaparra had Derek’s durability, he likely would be remembered as the better player. However, his inability to stay healthy torpedoed that legacy, and renders the comparison moot. In the end, Nomar’s story is one that engenders a discussion of “what could have been.”
What do you think about the Jeter-Nomar debate?
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