The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Monday, August 13, 2001

 

Jason Giambi, Wrecking Machine

Yesterday's game-winning home run by Jason Giambi felt like the most foregone conclusion I've seen all season. As Giambi strode to the plate, I sat there solemnly, rooting for the Yankees, yet knowing that it wasn't going to make a damn bit of difference. Not because the fix was in, not because the A's were stealing signs, but because Giambi is that hot and that good.

For those of you who didn't see the game: two outs, bottom of the ninth, tie ballgame, Johnny Damon on first, Mike Stanton pitching. Stanton starts off pitching Giambi high and tight, getting a strike on the first pitch, followed by three balls in a similar location. Giambi fouls off the next pitch to run the count full. To this point, Stanton has thrown nothing but fastballs, and nothing Giambi can extend his arms to hit. But Stanton decides to throw him a curve ball, Giambi guesses correctly, and for all we know that ball may still be rolling.

Friends, Jason Giambi can HIT. He leads the American League in On Base Percentage (.462), is second in Slugging Percentage (.647), fourth in Batting Average (.330), and sixth in Home Runs (29) and RBI (91). All of this while playing in a pitchers' park. By sabermetric measures he's even better. He's tied for first in the A.L. in OPS (1109), he ranks first via Baseball Prospectus's Equivalent Average and Equivalent Runs measures by a solid margin, and he's first in Offensive Winning Percentage as well.

Check out his splits--the man simply doesn't have a weakness when it comes to hitting. He's left-handed, but he's tattooing lefty pitching (.329, 1043 OPS, address all further questions regarding this matter to Mike Stanton). He plays in a pitchers' park (Oakland's team OPS is 47 points lower at home, while their team ERA is 0.58 runs lower there), but his home OPS is actually 14 points higher and he has almost twice as many HRs there. With runners on base? .392, 1243 OPS. Close and late? .338, 1051 OPS. Bases loaded? 6 for 9, with 17 RBI. He hasn't had an off month all season--his worst month would still be good enough for the top 10 in OPS. As they say on SportsCenter, you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him.

Giambi was the hottest commodity at the trading deadline because he's a free agent at the end of this season. Oakland's decision to keep him and play for the Wild Card was a bold move that had a ripple effect throughout both leagues with regards. But Oakland's gamble looks to be paying off in the short-term, as the A's have been tearing it up--winners of 11 straight and 33 of their last 43 ballgames.

The question is whether that short-term success will translate into an ability to sign Giambi to a long-term contract at the end of the year. Giambi turned down a six-year, $91 million deal when the A's refused to include a no-trade clause, and another MVP on the mantelpiece isn't going to lower that cost.

Which, inevitably, brings George Steinbrenner into the equation. The footsie has already begun; Giambi sang Steinbrenner's praises this weekend. "The man wants to win. When he thinks highly of you, you take it as a compliment," he told reporters.

While it is tempting [drool] to imagine Giambi taking over first base [slobber] for the subpar Tino Martinez and teeing off [slurp] on that short left-field porch [belch], I find myself hoping Giambi stays put. Not because I wouldn't want him in pinstripes, but because I have too much respect for the way Oakland has built itself into a contender, especially given their small-market constraints. The A's are a fun team to watch, with a potent offense and a trio of young pitchers who are already among the game's best. Their run for the AL West title last year was impressive, and they almost knocked off the Yankees in the Division Series. They figure to do some damage this season and for the forseeable future if they can hold onto Giambi. He's 30 years old, extremely durable, immensely popular, and he can hit the ball a long, long way. I have a hard time believing Oakland GM Billy Beane will let the man walk just because of a no-trade clause.

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