Aug
29

Damon, Cabrera, Matsui put Giambi in a bind

By

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?

Categories : Analysis

34 Comments»

  1. Count Zero says:

    I can’t challenge the way JT has handled this so far — for a lineup like the Yankees’, Giambi is simply a really dangerous pinch hitter at this point…who gets an occasional start at DH to rest Matsui or Damon. He can’t start at first because a) he’s a disaster there even when he’s playing regularly and he hasn’t played there in months and b) he gets hurt as soon as he starts playing there every day.

    I’m looking at him as the return of the Strawman in ’96. He could end up playing a very big role before it’s all said and done.

  2. steve (different one) says:

    Giambi should play 1B 3 days a week and on the other 3-4 days a week, rest each of the 4 OFers once. on the days that Giambi plays 1B, Damon should play LF and Matsui should DH.

    Had Torre done this is Hughes’ last start, they may have won. Damon looked great in LF last night, and it’s not like Matsui’s arm is anything special (yes Michael Kay, i realize he “gets rid of it quickly”).

  3. Wordekemper = Wizard says:

    nice post–really brings unfounded ‘where’s giambi?’ angst into the bright light. and whenever i am thinking that giambi should just go out there and play first, I imagine joe leaning over to donnie and asking what do you think? If Donnie says no, the answer is friggin’ no.
    nice win, last night.

  4. monkeypants says:

    The notion that a team struggling for a play off spot, with suspect pitching, with only 30 games left in the season can “afford” to carry a 1B with an OPS of .699 (.621 in August) is ludicrous.

    Equally ludicrous is the notion that the one hit more Giambi gets is more than made up for by the one hit Phillips supposedly saves. Excpet for the fact that Giambi’s hit has a very good chance of being a HR; not to mention the walsk Giambi will certainly get (despite his limited BB since coming back).

    In any case, looking at BA is not the best way to go. How about, for example, RC? Andy is at 4.0 RC/game, while Giambi is at 6.8 RC/game. If those numbers are at all refelctive of reality, are we to believe that Andy’s defense at 1B saves the team more than 2.8 runs *per game*?

    • Joseph P. says:

      I don’t think that RC comparison is fair at all. Andy doesn’t create four runs per game by himself, nor does Giambi create 6.8 runs per game. So no, Andy doesn’t save 2.8 runs per game with his glove.

    • Count Zero says:

      Agree with Joseph. Using that logic, the current Yankee lineup creates over 50 runs per game…A-Rod alone creates 9.9. That should be enough to win even a Moose start. ;-)

      RC/G is not intended for literal translation.

      • monkeypants says:

        Fair enough. I’ll still stand by my overall point that BA v. hyothetical “Hits Saved” is pretty much a bogus analysis. Over thirty games I am convinced that whatever defense Andy provides will be overshadowed by the offense Giambi supplies. Clearly the organization is not entirely satisfied with the 1B situation, or the team would not be using Betemit there (and even the occasional Duncan experience).

        • Joseph P. says:

          You know, Duncan is someone I completely overlooked. Maybe he could provide a pop/defense combination that would be better balanced than both Phillips and Giambi.

          And I’ll stand behind my hits saved argument just as I did in the post. Remember, I wasn’t saying this was a science or anything. But a lot of the balls that Giambi misses could turn into doubles, where Phillips would be more apt to make the play. And then we’re not even talking about throws to first, which could be an out with Phillips, but could bounce into the seats and be two bases with Giambi.

          Once again, it’s hypthetical, so I can understand your skepticism. My point is that with the state of the Yanks pitching vs. the state of the Yanks offense, I think the pitching needs the bigger boost. And the only way to boost the pitching staff at this point is to boost the defense.

          • monkeypants says:

            It’s not a matter of boosting offense v. boosting defense. It’s a matter of increasing the differential between runs scored and runs allowed. This can be done either by increasing offense or increasing defense/pitching.

            So it still comes back to: does Giambi’s bat and poor defense create more net runs than Phillips’ supposedly better defense and demonstrably worse bat? Or is it the other way around.

            PS–I love this new reply feature. : )

  5. Jersey says:

    Agreed, batting average (hits) is not the best metric to use. Factor in walks, which will surely come for Giambi, and the BIG power difference, and I think I’d take Giambi quite a bit more in the field. Although, I hear the concerns about injuries, so I think you have to walk that line so you don’t cause another boo-boo. I also hear the concerns about what Giambi will do to the already-questionable pitching, but I think again that his offense makes up for that.

    You take offensive contributions over defensive liabilities; don’t stop now.

    • Count Zero says:

      A logical argument.

      Let me ask you this though — did you watch The Bronx is Burning (or do you remember ’97)? Remember Billy sitting Reggie in the ALCS against Splittorf and waiting for that crucial moment in Game 5 to use him when he got the matchup he wanted? Yogi saying: “You’ve been waiting for this moment since the first inning haven’t you?”

      Giambi as PH at the very moment when you need a LH power hitter is a powerful tool just as Straw was. Giambi in his current state, playing 7 innings at 1B, and then being taken out for a LIDR just when you might really need his bat to decide a close game is also valuable but less so, IMO. If Damon or Matsui cool off (which is not unlikely), he DHs every day. But right now, I like him better where he is.

      • monkeypants says:

        I’m not sure about 1997, but in 1998 Strawberry hit .247/.354.542. He also appeared in 101 games and got 295 ABs (345 PAs). he was not a glorified PH–he was basically a part time starter who appeared in more than 60% of the team’s games. If Giambi were being used thus, and not buried, I would be more comfortable.

  6. Mike A. says:

    Thing is, you have play Giambi at least 2-3 times a week just to keep him fresh. It’s tough for a guy who’s been a regular all his life to adjust to becoming a pinch hitter. Maybe give Giambi 2 starts a week at first, pull him late for D, and definitely play Phillips when Wang starts.

  7. dan says:

    we can use RC/G if you really want to. it’s just that RC/G is meant to read as if the player batted in each spot in the lineup (9 jason giambi’s playing every day would theoretically yield 6.84 runs per game, and George A. Phillips batting 9 times would yield 4.03 rpg). since both players obviously dont bat in ever spot in the lineup, they bat in only one, we can divide that number by 9, to get “runs created per game in lineup” (RCGL). So giambi’s RCGL is .76 runs, while andy’s is .45. the difference is .31 runs per game. So in terms of runs saved vs. runs created, phillips must save about one run every 3 games OVER than giambi would IN THE FIELD. It’s up for debate (fielding stats wont work because of giambi’s incredibly small sample size) as to whether this can be done.

    Also, if anyone here has a baseball prospectus subscription, i ask you to do this…. go to each of giambi’s and andy’s pecota cards, and calculate the difference between their respective MLVr. I dont know how the stat works, but i suspect it could be another answer to what were discussing.

    • dan says:

      i guess im not the only one whos too cheap for a subscription

    • Michael T says:

      I think you got the same answer I did on the offensive side. I responded somweher below with a simple analysis that showed AP likely saves us 1 out (out not run) every 4 games vs. Giambi. No brainer to play him.

  8. Bart says:

    Giambi lost a ton of weight and is significantly more nimble than any season after his 1syt – one — watch how he gets on top of or at least catches up to the high fastball that he was not getting near even at the end of last year

    I think he plays for all predominantly RH lineups except when Wang is pitching -

    Cano, Jeter and Arod can take a split second more care with their throws

    Play Jason until he is as productive as he can be — then mix and match in the playoffs and WS –

    This is critcal – if the team can get to the WS — only the pitcher will be a mjor hole in the NL park — and Jason from the left side can be a much bigger difference maker than Phillips or Duncan from the right

    And with a LH throwing to Abreu last night why didn’t JT pinch hit Duncan — he is going to be needed as well – it was almost a no harm situation

    • Joseph P. says:

      You know, Bart, I was just thinking something along similar lines with Giambi. He hasn’t made a disastrous play out there yet, so maybe we can get by with him.

      Then again, the idea is to prevent catastrophe, not to let it happen and decide what to do from there. I think history, both in baseball and in the world, can teach us that.

  9. paul albany says:

    matsusi right knee is o0biously a hinderence to his swing in this instance giambi at dh would be a better option untill matsui is healthy

  10. I can’t believe you’re advocating sitting the second best hitter on the team.

    It’s unconscionable.

    • Joseph P. says:

      So I take it, in your snide way, that you feel Giambi’s defense at first (plus the potential for injury) is worth having his bat in the lineup.

      • That’s part of it. I’d certainly put his value over Andy Phillips (and good thing they have a stat for it called VORP), but even besides that, think about the DH situation. Giambi is a better hitter than Matsui, but Torre never ever even gives Matsui a day off.

        Giambi should be playing 4 out of every 5 games, 1-2 at 1B and 2-3 at DH. Other than A-Rod, he’s the best hitter on the team.

        • Joseph P. says:

          I can get on board with that schedule for Giambi. However, you’re assuming he’ll hit like he normally does. Clearly, that’s not a wild assumption. But it’s within the realm of possibility that he won’t hit like the second best hitter on the team.

          He may be an overall better hitter than Matsui, but Matsui, as noted above, has been absolutely tearing it up over the past two months. But he could use a rest now because of his knees, so there is no better time than the present to test your usage scheme.

  11. Michael T says:

    You err by looking at batting average vs. OBP. By my math, AP makes an extra out vs. Giambi at the plate at least one every 3 games. And it is probably closer to once every 2 1-/2.

    In 2006, AP had 27 assists in 533 inning, for 1 every 19.7. Giambi had only 11 assist (truly awful) in 480 innings for one every 44. By my math, if you assume they had roughly the same “chances” then Gimabi costs us 0.25 outs per nine innings relative to AP. (And I think this is conservative since Giambi probably started when we had out fly ball guys and Ap got the Wanger).

    So the balance of trade is: Giambi on O is +1 out every 3 games. and -1 out every four games on D. And that doesn’t even factor in the enormous diffeence in power. (Of course, this assume they are a wash in catching throwh balls which is about 90% of what a first baseman does anyway).

    • Joseph P. says:

      The problem with defensive analysis is that we don’t have stats that really take everything into consideration. Giambi has poor range and absolutely cannot throw the ball. He seems fine at picking throws, but me saying that highlights the biggest problem with defensive analysis: most of it is anecdotal.

      That’s good, though. It means we can talk about it here.

      • Michael T says:

        But win shares and VORP3 and the like takes that stuff into account. And AP looks even worse using these types of advanced holistic metrics.

        • Joseph P. says:

          They supposedly take that into account. However, I’m not inclined to believe many numbers when it comes to defense.

          • Michael T says:

            Agree that it is very hard to quantify D. But I do think that nearly a year’s worth of innings, and the number of assists made by Yankees first basemen should give us a meaningful sense for how many “tough” chances are fielded there. And these data show that it is not more than once every 3 or 4 games. That is 15-20 plate appearances. Coupled with the RC/27 showing that JG is 2 runs better than AP over 27 outs this is pretty conclusive.

  12. [...] think we’re missing an important aspect of the Giambi discussion that’s occurring in this thread. How well do you think Giambi would hit if he was given regular [...]

  13. That’s part of it. I’d certainly put his value over Andy Phillips (and good thing they have a stat for it called VORP), but even besides that, think about the DH situation. Giambi is a better hitter than Matsui, but Torre never ever even gives Matsui a day off.

    Giambi should be playing 4 out of every 5 games, 1-2 at 1B and 2-3 at DH.

  14. Adam says:

    Wow…lot’s of stuff here.

    First off…Matsui isn’t the second best hitter on the team. He might be third.

    Secondly, Giambi would be my 5 hitter right now, probably my three hitter actually (assuming Rodriguez or Abreu wouldn’t throw hissy fits.)

    Thirdly, Phillips is a black hole with the bat, and he’s only okay defensively at the least valuable defensive position.

  15. [...] think we’re missing an important aspect of the Giambi discussion that’s occurring in this thread (beyond the anecdotal nature of defensive abilities). How well do you think Giambi would hit if he [...]

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