We as fans love scapegoats. Pinning all of a teams failures on one man is a lot easier than looking at your entire roster and coming to the conclusion that your team has serious issues. Aside from Juan Pierre, who will have scapegoat status until he takes off the Dodger blue for the last time, Nomar Garciaparra seems to be absorbing the brunt of the blame for whatever ails the Dodgers. This is without reason. Amongst 22 qualifying first basemen, Nomar is 17th in on base percentage, last in slugging percentage, and 20th in OPS. If you look at any number beyond RBIs, Nomar Garciaparra has been one of the worst players in baseball for the first two plus months of the season. The question is, is it time to cut bait on Nomar Garciaparra for James Loney, or is a progression to the mean inevitable.
The most reasonable argument for benching Nomar is that he hasn't been bad for just two months, he's failed to hit since the All Star break in 2006. Prior to doing any research on this, I separated his failures in the second half of 2006 and this year's struggles into two separate things. 2006 simply was just regression to the mean. Nomar had no right to hit .358 before the All Star Break, but since his isolated power was fairly close pre and post All Star (.220 versus .179), I just chalked it up to the baseball gods striking him down. What he was doing in 2007, hitting for a decent average with zero power, seems entirely different, so I don't really count it against him as a four month long slump. I saw it as a two month regression to the mean, followed by a two month slump.
After doing some research however, this is not true. While batted ball data broken up into splits is non existent, I wrote an article about the Dodger hitter's BABIP right before last year's All Star break. While I don't have the Dodgers exact numbers, I did plot the Dodger's line drive percentage on a graph. Nomar's line drive percentage a few days before the All Star Break last year was right around 24%, and his BABIP was right around .360. In other words, Nomar's .358 average in the first half was entirely in line with his batted ball numbers. However, by the end of the season, his line drive percentage had declined to 20.1%. If you assume that he kept up the same line drive percentage for the final three days before the All Star Break, you can do some simple math to determine that Nomar's line drive percentage in the second half was only 14.8%, a terrible number for someone who makes his living on batting average. This drop in line drive percentage leads to a similar decline in BABIP, which completely explains why Nomar hit .358 in the first half and .229 in the second half. There was no real luck based regression to the mean for Nomar in 2006, he simply became a far worse hitter after the All Star break.
This year, Nomar's line drive percentage is back up to a decent level compared to the average player (18.2%). Nomar just isn't hitting for any power at all, and so he needs to do more than have a decent batting average. Nomar's power problems don't just seem like he's just barely missing the ball, he's failing to drive the ball at all regular. Just four of his balls in play at Dodger Stadium have even come within the vicinity of the warning track, and most of his balls in play cluster in an area around 60 feet from the fence. This isn't just an issue with just needing to square up just a little bit or getting some more favorable weather conditions, Nomar can't seem to drive the ball at all.
Since the middle of July 2006, Nomar has simply not been a very good baseball player. He's not getting robbed, he's not getting unlucky, he's just not hitting well. While I'm hesistant to want to pull Nomar for James Loney at this point, Loney and Nomar have almost the exact same upside, it's time to start seriously looking at Nomar's future as a viable major league ball player. While before I was sure Nomar would bounce back and start producing again, this could very well be what we see out of Nomar Garciaparra for the rest of his time in a Dodger uniform.