It could easily be said that Nomar Garciaparra has played his best this season against the Boston Red Sox. When facing his original team this year, he has a .421 AVG, .450 OBP, .632 SLG, 1.082 OPS with 1 HR, 1 2B, and 1 steal of third base. At Fenway Park his 2009 AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS line is .467/.467/.533/1.000. Half of his games against Boston have been multi-hit games (two two-hit games and one three-hit game).
Nomar had not played at Fenway Park for nearly five years after being traded before he made his return to his old stomping grounds on July 6. In his first at-bat, he received a loud and lengthy ovation from the Fenway Faithful, clearly determined to show how much they still love him.
Now, I am not suggesting the Red Sox get Nomar to be their starting shortstop again. However, there is sufficient reason to believe bringing him back could inject some stability into a position that is been such a problem for the Red Sox since his forced departure. He played about 56% of his games in 2008 at shortstop, where he earned high praise for his fielding from the likes of Vin Scully.
With those who believe Nomar has lost his range and can no longer play shortstop, I would like to share a few of the comments made about his defense at the position in 2008. Some of the words and phrases used include: "very beautiful," "dazzling," "flawless," "excellent," "great," "very good," "puts on a fielding clinic," "outstanding," "terrific." The following quotes were all made by Dodgers announcers in reference to Nomar's play at shortstop last season:
''Good pick by Nomar and the throw on the money, a very good play by Nomar to go deep in the hole to his right and throw out the runner." --Vin Scully
"Nomar has not only been playing well with the bat but also has not made an error in his 13 games at shortstop and about 50 chances, too." --Scully
"A good throw...you would never know he hadn't played since [7/27] to go deep in the hole, turn, jump in the air, and throw it right to Loney...a nice play by Nomar." --Scully
"Fastball, pulled to the hole, short-hop, backhanded by Nomar to get him. Nomar Garciaparra gets all three: Coste, Bruntlett, and a dandy with Myers as he goes deep in the hole, short-hopped it, settling out on the grass to whirl and throw and it was a strike to Loney." --Scully
"Nomar's been all over the infield. He's gone to his left, gone to his right. And we're not just talking about tonight...Nomar's been a very busy shortstop." --Rick Monday
"He has really been an eye-opener at shortstop...his throws have been right on the money, even when he goes deep in the hole to backhand it." --Monday
"Nomar has really been playing a very beautiful shortstop..." --Charley Steiner
"...Nomar has really played an outstanding shortstop and hit the ball well." --Steiner
Remember, Scully, Steiner, and Monday were all watching him play and clearly liked what they saw.
Here is what some fans on the Dodgers' message board had to say:
"I really think Nomar loves playing SS though and it's good to see him back at his natural position." "The important thing is that he is now playing like the Nomar of old again and he should be playing and contributing whenever he is healthy." "I'll stick with Nomar." "Stick with Nomar." "Agreed. I would stick with Nomar...He has done a great job in the...time he has played.” "Personally, I want Nomar in the lineup come October." "Nomar is our best hope at SS." "Nomar looked very good...I was very pleased to see how seamlessly he slipped back into playing SS again. He did a great job on defense. Even some of the out-of-town announcers complimented him, mentioning that he looked like the old Nomar in the field." "I was really very surprised at how well he adjusted back to SS....I'd pencil Nomar in there."
Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times wrote: "Garciaparra...showed impressive range in the first inning when he ventured far to his right to field Rollins' grounder before making a strong throw to get him at first base."
David Sabino wrote the following on si.com:
Fielding percentage for Nomar Garciaparra since he assumed starting shortstop duties for the Dodgers on July 4. Manning a position he hasn't played since 2005 with the Cubs, the former All-Star SS has flawlessly fielded all 44 chances that came his way and has a range factor during that span better than those of...fielders like Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, and Orlando Cabrera. His success in the field has translated to the plate too. Since Independence Day, Garciaparra ranks second in slugging percentage, tied for third in home runs, and fifth in RBIs and batting average among major league shortstops."
These two videos provide just a small taste of what he did at shortstop in 2008:
Of course, the Red Sox can also use Nomar at first and third (and DH). After all, this is a man about whom Mark Grace once said: "He's what you call a baseball athlete, who would be a terrific player no matter where you put him." Grace said that in a game in which Nomar was playing first for the Los Angeles Dodgers and also said that Garciaparra had been "outstanding at first base. You'd think he'd been playing it all his career."
Doubt Nomar's defensive abilities at first and/or his legs? Watch this September 2008 play:
Some may believe that his compartment syndrome would prevent him from making any significant contribution to the team. It should be known, though, that the Oakland A's medical staff devised a plan for how to best use Nomar: have him play a day, take two days off, and he could pinch-hit in the "off" days. Unfortunately, A's manager Bob Geren has opted not to follow the medically recommended arrangement because the organization has decided to give some of their young players as much playing time as possible. Thus, he could play on a fairly regular basis. Here is how a typical week could go:
Tuesday: Alex Gonzalez
Not a bad set-up, if you ask me.
Obviously, Gonzalez could play more in weeks in which the Red Sox put Nomar at first, third, or DH.
Now, let's take a closer look at Garciaparra's 2009 stats. His .259 AVG, two home runs, and 13 RBI leave much to be desired, but they do not tell the whole story. He has hit .333 in May, .324 in July, .500 vs. Cleveland, .333 against the Dodgers, .400 vs. San Francisco, .333 vs. Arizona, .300 at Angel Stadium, .500 at Progressive Field, .333 at Dodger Stadium, .333 at AT&T Park, .333 as a third baseman, .462 after a 2-0 count, 1.000 after 3-0, .500 after 3-1, .409 on a 0-0 count (i.e., first pitch), .300 on 0-1, .600 on 2-0, 1.000 on 3-0, .429 when third in the lineup, .370 when sixth, .333 with the bases loaded, and .291 with the bases empty.
In addition, he is hitting better against right-handed pitching (.264) this year than off left-handers (.250). (In 2007, he hit .303 off righties.)
The Red Sox have used a bevy of shortstops—with little or no success—since trading Nomar in 2004. A playoff race and a return to the team that made him a star could reinvigorate Nomar's bat, and he could help offset Boston's shortstop woes. He can still provide strong defense at three positions.
The Red Sox recently brought back one former shortstop (.210-hitting Alex Gonzalez). Well, it is time to bring back another: Nomar Garciaparra, the man whom many consider the best shortstop the team has ever had.