CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: ... (03/11)
<< Previous Column
One-Hoppers: Battle of... (03/10)
Next Column >>
One-Hoppers: Nomar In ... (03/12)
Next Article >>
Squawking Baseball: At... (03/11)

March 11, 2010

One-Hoppers

Gone, Nomar, Gone

by Steven Goldman

As Jay Jaffe and I were making our way back from Washington, DC this morning, Jay read the news of Nomar Garciaparra’s retirement. We fell into discussing notable moments in the shortstop’s career that we’d like to remember. Jay mentioned an on-field moment that I’m sure he’ll share with you, whereas the first thing that came to mind for me really wasn’t one of Nomar’s profiles in courage, but Theo Epstein’s: the tremendous risk that the young GM took on July 31, 2004, when he traded one of the most popular players in recent franchise history while in the middle of a pennant race.

In our book Mind Game, which is about that race and the championship that resulted, Christina Kahrl spent a chapter breaking down the trade:

As the Red Sox drew nearer to the trading deadline, they were forced to confront the possibility that Garciaparra, sullenly playing out (and just as often sitting out) the last year of his contract, had changed from indispensable star into an albatross who just might prevent them from reaching the post-season. It was the kind of decision that one would normally like to take one’s time with, say a good six months or so of solid ruminating someplace quiet. The Red Sox had only days to come to grips with the situation.

[snip]

The deal done, the howling began. Red Sox Nation wailed and sat shiva. The analysis community bled through their pores. Though Epstein offered defensive considerations as his prime motivation, analysts conditioned to revere offense over defense weren’t buying it. As Baseball Prospectus’s own Joe Sheehan stated, “I don’t think that the Sox are a better team today than they were Friday (before the deal)… I think they made the trade not because it makes them better, but because they didn’t have it in them to stand up to Garciaparra… .This trade happened because Garciaparra wasn’t going to come out of his full pout until he was dealt or filed for free agency.” Sheehan went on to observe, “The Sox are a poor defensive team, and it’s hurt them so much that they’re sixth in the league in runs allowed. How many fewer runs should the Red Sox give up?”

[snip]

Epstein had taken a calculated risk, flaunting the conventions of the analysis that had sustained him in the past. In effect, the trade argued that the mind game might need to yield now and then to instinct. Still, he knew that the outcome could be as damning for him as the Larry Andersen-for-Jeff Bagwell trade had been for Lou Gorman, or the inflated expectations placed on Rudy Pemberton had been for Dan Duquette. Epstein wouldn’t have to wait long to find. The wisdom of the move might be debated forever, but the only proof that really mattered would be what happened on the field in the next two months.

There have been very few times when a team has improved itself by trading a star, but credit Epstein with recognizing that his team might just be the rare one that qualified. Nomar had been a great player, particularly from 1998-2000, and by 2004 he was still very good, but with growing flaws. How many GMs would have made that trade? How many ownerships would have let him do it? Garciaparra did many wonderful things on the ballfield, but the lesson in leadership provided by Epstein on July 31 will have more resonance in history than anything Nomah! did with a bat or glove.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

16 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Jack G

Mind Game's a great read, still holds up. Especially the Jeromy Burnitz part

Mar 11, 2010 06:47 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

Meant to say, thank you for that. I'm still very proud of the book and its snapshot of a historically significant pennant race. I wish we could do a book like that every year (don't tell my fellow BPers I said that -- they'd have me burned at the stake).

Mar 12, 2010 12:26 PM
 
Matt Kory

I think its a shame, Steven, that of all the great moments in his career, sulking Nomar is what sticks with you. The man was a great baseball player. He won't be a Hall of Famer, but he played up to that standard for more than a couple years. He had many great moments both at the plate and in the field and inspired a generation of young Red Sox fans in the process. For me, at least, what he did on the field over shadows his behavior off it.

Mar 11, 2010 08:04 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Couldn't agree more, mattymatty, but that's my two cents. That knife-like face, the lean form of a martial artist or a dancer or a bullfighter, that visage screwed up into complete concentration as he stepped in, tightening up like a compound bow where you could almost hear the tension in him sing as he waited for a delivery, then springing loose and striking with ferocity, it was almost a perfect balance, an artist's symmetry, of how a player looked matching his gifts and his production, almost like a latter-day Dawson: he just looked dangerous, and he was.

It's that player I'll always see in my mind's eye. Admittedly, the between-pitch tediousness got a bit old, and for years I wondered, time and again, if anyone was just going to routinely dust him for being a latter-day Mike Hargrove... but face it, we'll be telling Nomar stories for years, because when he was on, he was a lot of fun to watch.

Mar 11, 2010 08:26 AM
 
Matt Kory

That first paragraph was poetry, Christina. Thanks for that. That's what I'll remember too.

Mar 11, 2010 08:47 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

I figured I'd let Jay regale you with a story of Nomar's on-field heroics since that was his initial thought. I certainly enjoyed Nomar the player, and this post isn't really about his sulking as it is about the risk that Theo Epstein took.

Mar 11, 2010 11:01 AM
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

As promised, here is my more personal take on Nomar in today's "One-Hoppers" blog.

Mar 12, 2010 12:19 PM
 
chriscaroy

any thoughts on whether that trade gets made if nomar WASN'T sulking? as in, if he was "just" hurt(ing) yet adamant about (or even open to) remaining a red sock...

in theory, theo should've made the trade even in my fictional scenario due to nomar's imminent decline...but could he have pulled the trigger then?

(apologies if this addressed in mind game)

Mar 11, 2010 11:55 AM
rating: 0
 
Nater1177

It is a shame that Nomar's mind bogglingly good years are overshadowed by his exit strategy, but the same could be said of Damon and Manny. They too produced some unbeleivable memories but are going to be remembered for the way they left (or who they went to play for) as much if not more so than the good memories. But it is hard to not think of him sitting alone on the bench in the midst of a big yankee series when his name comes to mind. It's a human trait (failing?) that isn't just sports related. A divorce follows a 15 year marriage that was predominantly happy, what are the parties going to remember more? Work at a company that treats you well for ten good years, but then lays you off, which memory is most poignant at the end of the day? The 'remember the worst' isn't true in all cases sure, but in more instances than not I expect it is.

Mar 11, 2010 12:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

Some people may remember Nomar (and Manny and Johnny D) in a negative way, but I certainly won't. I'll remember the best moments that all the players brought to me and other Red Sox fans. But, as Christina said earlier, that's only my two cents.

Mar 11, 2010 19:14 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I guess the other hook about Nomar's career is that, sort of like nobody really wants to remember Ron Santo's last spin in the wrong uni and playing a whole lot of second base, that last season in Oakland wasn't the right note for him to end on. Instead, I'd rather remember Nomar's last year as a Dodger, briefly glorious in no small part because they decided to chuck the risk and let the man play shortstop again. They let Nomar be Nomar, and for a brief while, he was Nomar again. That was beautiful, and almost certainly the way Hollywood would punctuate his career, the period placed there rather than trailing into a spatter of A's at-bats between DL stints.

Mar 11, 2010 16:46 PM
 
Rob Moore

He didn't play much SS with the Dodgers, if any. I believe he mostly played 3rd and 1st.

Mar 11, 2010 17:24 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Review 2008 at your leisure.

Mar 11, 2010 17:31 PM
 
Rob Moore

Wow. That's pretty embarrassing, especially since I'm Dodger fan that watches or listens to almost every single game. After a visit to Baseball Reference my memory is properly refreshed.

Mar 12, 2010 09:50 AM
rating: 0
 
JayhawkBill

"As Baseball Prospectus’s own Joe Sheehan stated, “I don’t think that the Sox are a better team today than they were Friday (before the deal)… I think they made the trade not because it makes them better, but because they didn’t have it in them to stand up to Garciaparra…"

Joe Sheehan was a Yankees fan first and a BP writer second. It shows here.

Attitudes aside, both Nomar and Millar were horrible defensive liabilities in 2004, and Theo plugged both gaps in one trade, giving up just one free agent-to-be and one prospect who never made it. As a rational Red Sox fan in 2004 (a role verging on oxymoron status), I thought that the trade made sense the next day, as a calculated risk if not as a sure thing.

Mar 11, 2010 18:56 PM
rating: -1
 
judyblum

I don't agree, I just think he didn't take defense seriously enough. I think a lot of people didn't then, and plenty of them still don't now. How much better should they have been than sixth in the league in runs allowed? With that pitching staff?

Mar 12, 2010 04:07 AM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: ... (03/11)
<< Previous Column
One-Hoppers: Battle of... (03/10)
Next Column >>
One-Hoppers: Nomar In ... (03/12)
Next Article >>
Squawking Baseball: At... (03/11)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Article Player Profile: David Robertson
Fantasy Article The -Only League Landscape: National League ...
Fantasy Article Tale of the Tape, Dynasty Edition: Nick Burd...
Fantasy Article Dynasty League Positional Rankings: Top 50 R...
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Huston Street Might Have Reli...
Pitching Backward: In Search of the Winninge...
Rubbing Mud: A Solution Does Not Exist

MORE FROM MARCH 11, 2010
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: The Unsigned
Premium Article Contractual Matters: AL East
Squawking Baseball: At Bat 2010
Fantasy Article Team Health Reports: San Diego Padres
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: Get Back in Line, Part...

MORE BY STEVEN GOLDMAN
2010-03-23 - Premium Article You Could Look It Up: Get Back in Line, Part...
2010-03-19 - Premium Article One-Hoppers: What Makes a Good Leadoff Man?
2010-03-12 - BP Unfiltered: BP Book Tour: Where Were You ...
2010-03-11 - One-Hoppers: Gone, Nomar, Gone
2010-03-11 - Premium Article You Could Look It Up: Get Back in Line, Part...
2010-03-05 - BP Unfiltered: The BP 2010 Tour Continues
2010-02-21 - Premium Article You Could Look It Up: Get Back in Line, Part...
More...

MORE ONE-HOPPERS
2010-03-16 - Premium Article One-Hoppers: Don't start Strasburg's clock y...
2010-03-15 - One-Hoppers: Selig: No A's Relocation Report...
2010-03-12 - One-Hoppers: Nomar In Blue
2010-03-11 - One-Hoppers: Gone, Nomar, Gone
2010-03-10 - One-Hoppers: Battle of the Bad Contracts
2010-03-10 - Premium Article One-Hoppers: Why the Marlins will sink in '1...
2010-03-08 - Premium Article One-Hoppers: Slider makes Kershaw a Cy conte...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2010-03-12 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Nomar and the Trinit...
2010-03-12 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Import/Export