During the late 90s and early 2000s, elite shortstops were available in abundance around the major leagues. Among this vast and wide-ranging group, were two rivals: Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra. Due to their many similarities and the frequent intersection of their careers, Jeter and Garciaparra were easily comparable during their time in the MLB. Even with all their similarities, their careers took two very different paths. One had a career that was derailed by injuries, and one experienced glory, praise, and success as a member of a dynastic and iconic team.
The similarities are obvious
Both Jeter and Garciaparra began their careers in an era where power hitting was at its peak. But neither of these iconic players necessarily fell into the power-hitting category. During the beginning of his career, Garciaparra was a pretty solid home run hitter. But his injury-plagued 2001 season muffled his previous power abilities. Jeter also struggled with power, as he never achieved a season SLG % >.560.
Despite their lack of power, Jeter and Garciaparra were both able to be continuously productive for almost 15 years. In 1997 alone, Jeter and Nomar accounted for approximately 25% of all WAR among shortstops (10.4 out of a league collective 42.6). Both did this while competing in one of baseball’s toughest divisions. Their values were impressive for playing such a difficult position. And their high level of talent sparked a new age rivalry for the Yankees and Red Sox.
Defense makes a difference
In an era that included both Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Smith, Nomar Garciaparra cemented himself as a defensively gifted shortstop. Throughout his career, Nomar amassed an 18.8 Def (or fielding runs + positional adjustment). A rule of thumb is that around 20 Def is excellent, so over Nomar’s career, he proved to be a consistently excellent defender. For comparison, Jeter ended his career with a collective -19.8 Def. Most note Jeter as an excellent defender but stats like UZR (ultimate zone rating), Def, and DRS (defensive runs saved) omit the credibility of these notions completely. In 2 out of the 5 years that Jeter earned the honor of a Gold Glove (2005 and 2006), his Def was negative, which denotes these seasons as below-average defensive performances. Jeter won these awards with poor performances. While Nomar, an elite defender, never added the achievement to his resume.
Similarities don’t provide the same outcome
With their many similarities, it could be expected that these two shortstops had similar careers in the big leagues. This inference would be wrong. Jeter was a part of the powerhouse Yankee’s dynasty of the 90s and early 2000s. He experienced lots of success throughout his 20-year career and earned the respect of almost all of his opponents. Jeter also collected fourteen All-Star selections and won five World Series titles.
As for Nomar, injuries plagued his promising career and eventually exiled him from the game after the 2009 season. His eventual trade from the Red Sox during the 2004 season may have led to them winning the World Series. Even with his absence during their 2004 title run, Nomar is still a Red Sox legend. Nomar may have been a better player than Jeter. But, in the end, his lack of involvement in the winning aspect of baseball may be the cursing roadblock that prevents him from being acknowledged as one of the greats.
Photo Credit: NY Post