Johnny Damon before July 1: .250/.335/.359
Johnny Damon since July 1: .287/.383/.427
Since the calendar turned July, Damon has been an impeccable leadoff hitter. He’s completely hit his way into the lineup every day, and he’s been a real boost at the top of the order.
This is a tougher comp, since he began his ascension before July 1 and had a terrible first couple of months.
Melky Cabrera before July 1: .259/.320/.371
Melky Cabrera since July 1: .332/.374/.500
With those numbers, Melky can slot into a number of lineup spots. Nine seems to be his home, though his OBP is surely good enough for the No. 2 spot.
This leaves us with Jason Giambi, who is seemingly the odd man out. Given his monster April — .322/.404/.517 — no one really could have seen that coming. Many were down on him in May, but his cold hitting turned out to be related to a serious injury.
Jason Giambi since his return: .268/.286/.659
He’s mashed five out of the park, but has just six RBI to show for it. He’s struck out 12 times to just one walk, which is very un-Giambian. While he’s making his case with some power, he’s not making it in other ways. And that really is what’s keeping him out of the lineup. Joe’s not going to sit Damon at this point — .333/.376/.526 in August — nor will he sit Matsui: .340/.391/.464 this month after a .345/.411/.735 July.
The only reasonable place to play Giambi at this point is first base. But then there’s the defensive conundrum: is the offense Giambi could potentially provide as an everyday player enough to counteract the few extra baserunners that will result from his being in the field?
Sadly, I think the answer at this point is no — and I’m a guy who usually always goes with the offense over the defense. But as we’ve demonstrated, the offense is in good shape — great shape, even. The lowest OBP of a regular (75 or more plate appearances) in August is Melky at .336; the lowest SLG of a regular this month is Jeter at .359, then Matsui at .464. We can afford to have Andy Phillips — .281/.309/.312 in August — in the lineup a good amount of time.
The problem is the pitching. One way to help out a pitching staff is to put out a solid defense. Granted, our defense isn’t exactly a stone wall even with Phillips out there, but he’s a vast defensive upgrade over Giambi.
Allow me to demonstrate. There are approximately 26 weeks in an MLB season. Say a player, we’ll call him Player A, gets six hits a week. That’s 156 for the season. Figure 600 at bats, so he hits .260. Now, take Player J, who gets seven hits a week. Just one more than Player A. Over 600 at bats, he’s hitting .303. One hit a week, .043 difference in batting average.
However, if Phillips saves even one hit a week over Giambi, which is pretty much a given, it evens out. True, Giambi, over time, will draw more walks and hit for a ton more power. But also over time, Giambi will give up more than one hit a week over what Phillips would do.
So what is it? Power and OBP (which will come for Giambi given regular at bats), but no defense? Or mediocre offensive numbers and above average defense? We’ve been having this debate for quite some time, but it’s really starting to stick out now. How should the Yankees handle Giambi in September?