The Yankees’ last four primary first baseman. Interesting to see Tex’s curve compared to Donnie’s. Stupid back problems.
Some links to check out while I try to get my finger to stop bleeding after cutting it open with a broken glass…
Katherine Bell of The Harvard Business Journal sat down for a chat with Yanks’ manager Joe Girardi recently, and it’s really one of the better interviews you’ll see. There aren’t any lay-up questions; they talked about his use of statistics, older players mentoring the younger players on the team, his divorce from the Marlins, steroids, all sorts of great stuff. It gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation.
He hasn’t been a Yankee for over a full year now, but Jason Giambi was always a favorite of mine, so I still keep tabs on him. Even during his down years from 2006-2008, he still put up a .386 OBP and a .262 ISO. Anyway, the Giambino invested seven figures into a social network/fashion retail website (really Big G?), but apparently got taken to the cleaners by a tech guy who delivered an inferior product. Giambi and his wife are now suing the guy for $3M, but I get the sense that the former Yank is the kind of guy that would rather have a few minutes alone with him in a locked room.
The Wall Street Journal has been cranking out some great stuff recently, and today they have a feature on Kevin Russo. Apparently the scrappy (yay!) little utility player from Long Island didn’t even have the benefit of the doubt from his college coach at Baylor, who “was just pulling for him to catch a break.” Russo’s father was a Yankee fan before succumbing to cancer in 2007, so for him to be playing in that uniform is all the more special for him and his family. Great stuff, right there.
Over at FanGraphs, our own Joe Pawlikowski took a look at catchers who’ve been doing a lot of catching this season, and the possible effect it’ll have on their production. I bring this up because Frankie Cervelli just finished a stretch in which he started seven games in seven days, nine games in ten days, and 15 games in 20 days. Unsurprisingly, his OPS has dropped 64 points during that time, but of course he wasn’t going to maintain his torrid pace all season. Really, I’m thinking more about laying off him a little more now to prevent him from being completely worn out come August and September.
Jorge Posada’s not young and has already dealt with three different injuries this year (two fluky, of course), so Girardi has to be prepared for a situation in which Cervelli starts the majority of games from here on out. Easing back on the gas now should have benefits later.
The offensive part of our Yankees By the Decade retrospective is coming to an end. After looking at the eight position players, we’ve landed on that catch-all designated hitter spot. Through the 2000s, the Yanks used 61 players at least one at the DH spot. From A-Rod to X-Nady, nearly everyone had a chance to DH. To whittle down the candidates, the chart shows those with at least 10 games as a designated hitter.
What leaps out at me from this chart is how the Yanks’ designated hitters weren’t that great at hitting. Most of the regulars who DH’d hit well below their career averages, and the team never really had a true DH this decade either. Jason Giambi led the pack with 22.3 percent of all DH at-bats, and Hideki Matsui was second with 16.4 percent. Beyond those two, the Yanks used the DH spot to rest regulars and give aging stars a spot in the lineup.
Early in the decade, the Yanks went after sluggers for the DH spot. They used a Glenallen Hill/Jose Canseco tandem in the second half of 2000 to some stellar results. Hill, acquired on July 21, 2000, from the Cubs for Ben Ford and Oswaldo Mairena, turned in a 175 OPS+ in 143 at bats, and around half of those came as a DH. Canseco, acquired on August 7, 2000, in a waiver move designed to block him from going to the Red Sox, had a great power spurt too. The duo combined for 15 home runs in just 175 DH at-bats.
After that though, the Yankees used the DH as a spot of convenience. They tried Chuck Knoblauch there in 2001 and Nick Johnson to some success in 2002 and 2003. After Johnson was traded, the Yanks turned to Jason Giambi, and he surprisingly hit significantly worse as a DH than he did as a first baseman. As the first baseman of the decade, Giambi hit .280/.420/.567. As the DH, he hit .234/.384/.458. That’s a swing of .145 OPS points.
Back in my younger and more ignorant days as a rookie baseball blogger at Talking Baseball, I explored the differences amongst hitters when they DH and when they play the field. My study then confused causation with correlation, but I’ve always believed that many hitters are better when they play the field too. Giambi always said that he preferred to play first because it kept him more in the game. It kept him warmer and more ready to bat. The decade’s numbers seem to bear him out.
At the same time, though, Giambi DH’d when he wasn’t healthy enough to play the field, and he would, in all likelihood, hit better when healthy. He DH’d, when he could, in 2004, 2006 and 2007 when sapped by injuries, and he played first in the years he was healthy. Somewhere, somehow, it’s probably a mixture of both.
Beyond Giambi, the Yankees’ DH numbers really highlight their love for the concept of the rotation DH. Hideki Matsui took over with great success over the last two years, but the team has used A-Rod, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada as the DH enough times to put them on this list. A-Rod, it seems, just loves to hit.
And so as Nick Johnson prepares to take over the DH mantle, I will anoint Jason Giambi as the Yanks’ DH of the decade. Had Hideki closed the playing time gap, he probably could have stolen this one from the Giambino; after all, he put up a better DH-only OPS this decade. But with over 300 at-bats, 28 home runs and approximately 43 runs created separating the two, Jason takes the crown but only barely.
Our Yankees by the Decade series continues today with a look at first base. After talking about the decade of Derek yesterday and Jorge’s time behind the dish on Wednesday. Today, we have an actual debate.
For this one, because the Yankees used 42 players at least once at first base, I limited our analysis to the guys who played at least 10 games at first over the decade. At some point or another, the Yankees decided to give these players somewhat regular playing time. It’s quite the list.
For the Yankees, finding a suitable first basemen took up a lot of resources in the 2000s. The 1980s belonged to Donnie Baseball, and the 1990s were split between a fading Mattingly and Tino Martinez. As the 2000s rolled around, Tino’s days in the Bronx were numbered. He hit an admirable .280/.329/.501 with 34 dingers and 113 RBI in 2001, but heading into his age 34 season, Tino was given his walking papers.
The Yankees turned their attention to the big fish that off-season: Jason Giambi. Coming off of some stellar years for the Oakland A’s, the Yankees desperately wanted to add Giambi’s bat to the lineup. For seven years and $120 million, they did just that. After hitting .330/.458/.617 over his final three years in the A’s, Giambi would be playing on the world’s biggest stage.
At first, he struggled in the Bronx. He didn’t homer until the Yanks’ ninth game of 2002 and didn’t appear to be the feared hitter the Yanks thought they were getting. That is, until the flood gates opened on May 17, 2002. That night, Giambi blasted a walk-off Grand Slam in the 12th inning as the Yanks downed the Twins 13-12. The Giambino had arrived. He would end the year with a .314/.435/.598 with 41 home runs and 122 RBI.
For Giambi, though, 2002 would represent his peak in the Bronx. The power would begin to tail off in 2003, and although the batting eye would remain stellar, Giambi began to break down. He missed half of 2004 with a variety of injuries and much of 2007 as well. He found himself in the eye of the steroid hurricane and could not escape controversy. He rebounded nicely in 2008, but with Mark Teixeira looming, Giambi was gone.
So is Jason Giambi then the first baseman of the decade? Offensively, he makes a strong case for himself. As a first baseman only — not as a DH — he hit .280/.420/.567 with 129 home runs in 28.44 percent of the Yanks’ first base ABs. Tino, who made a Bronx return in 2005, came in second in team first base ABs but hit just .262/.325/.452 and blasted just 64 home runs.
Yet, the Yankees spent much of the decade trying to find someone who could actually play defense at first. The team learned early on that Giambi was ill-equipped to handle the glove. He wasn’t confident in his throws and generally had poor range. His cumulative UZR at first during his Yankee years was a -18.8. Only once in his Yankee career did he play more than 92 games at first and that was in 2008 when the Yanks had no better options. From 2004-2007, he played just 204 of the Yanks’ 648 games in the field. He was, in other words, a very highly paid designated hitter who could be stuck at first base when need me.
To that end, the Yanks tried just about everything. They used Nick Johnson for much of 2003 at first and brought back Tino in 2005. They tried the all-glove Doug Mientkiewicz; they begged Andy Phillips to do anything with the bat at the big league level; and they even gave Miguel Cairo enough chances to accrue nearly 100 ABs as a first baseman. The situation was that dire.
As we sit here in 2009, we’re on the precipice of the decade of Mark Teixeira. Already third on the list of Yankee first baseman of the ’00s by plate appearances, Mark’s contract ensures that his glove and bat will occupy first base for much of the 2010s. It will be a stark contrast with the ’00s, a decade that belongs to Giambi’s bat but not his glove and one that saw many players try to man first with varying degrees of success.
Update 4:02 p.m.: The Yankees have made a roster move this afternoon. Ramiro Peña has been recalled from AAA Scranton, and Anthony Claggett has been sent back down. Peña will back up both the infield and outfield while Claggett has been nothing short of terrible for the Yanks this season. When Chad Gaudin gets here, either David Robertson or Mark Melancon will hop on the Scranton Shuttle. I think Melancon stays. We’ll know soon.
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As we await the start of what could be another epic Yankees/Red Sox contest this evening and as I readjust to East Coast time after a grueling day of travel, let’s talk about a few former Yankees who have seen their uniforms change stripes today.
As John Smoltz showed his age last night, Jason Giambi has been doing so all summer for the A’s. The seven-year Yankee vet who returned to the Bay Area this past winter was unconditionally released by Billy Beane today. Giambi is hitting .193/.332/.364. While the .139 IsoD is impressive, his batting average and slugging are both fourth-worst in the Majors, and the A’s have opted to give their younger first basemen extended looks.
I wonder if Giambi will land anywhere at this point. For what it’s worth, the fourth-place Blue Jays aren’t interested. It’s tough to call Giambi an impact bat, and he’s on the DL right now with a strained quad. If he’s finished, he sure went out with a wimper.
Another Yankee to symbolize the excesses and failures of the recent past found himself traded today. The Indians have dealt Carl Pavano to the Twins. This move came after the Twins put a waiver claim on Carl. For what it’s worth, the Twins are 4.5 games out of the AL Central but 9.5 games behind in the Wild Card race.
This move could be a risky one for the Twins simply because of Carl Pavano’s endurance. Right now, Carl Pavano has thrown 125.2 innings this year. He threw a combined 145.2 innings over four seasons for the Yanks. Despite his age and experience, he is definitely in the injury red zone right now. The Twins will rely on Pavano for depth, but that, as Yankee fans know, is a dicey proposition. The 5.37 ERA and 1.37 WHIP are hardly appealing.
Finally, Tom Verducci really likes the Yankees right now and doesn’t think things are looking up in Beantown. A Bronx win tonight would certainly cement that feeling.
One major difference between this season and last is the Yankees improved defense. It seems that Robinson Cano is making plays on everything near him. Derek Jeter, as we’ve discussed, is experiencing a defensive renaissance. But most importantly, the Yankees have a real first baseman in Mark Teixeira. It seems that every night he makes a spectacular play, one that his predecessor, Jason Giambi, would not make. As I’ve said more times than I can count this season, it feels great to have a real first baseman.
In discussing the infield defense, many have lauded Teixeira for his ability to scoop bad throws and prevent throwing errors. That can be huge, as it helps out pitchers and helps the team get out of innings quicker. It saves an unknown number of runs, because who knows what happens if that runner is safe and the pitcher is throwing with men on. Teixeira, we can see, is excellent at scooping balls out of the dirt. Yet for all his defensive shortcomings, Giambi was rather proficient at this, too.
Just how proficient was he? John Dewan, publisher of The Fielding Bible, takes a look. In the new volume of TFB, he discusses Defensive Misplays and Good Fielding Plays. Once of those Good Fielding Plays is scooping a ball out of the dirt, so we can see how Giambi and Teixeira rate.
The numbers are a bit skewed, because Tex plays first far more than Giambi did during his tenure in New York. Based on the numbers, Tex has scooped 22 throws in 95 games started. Last year Giambi picked 29 in 112 games started. The difference is marginal: 0.23 scoops per game for Tex, 0.26 for Giambi. So really, there’s not that much of a difference in their abilities to scoop balls out of the dirt. Then again, this data assumes a few things, and then leaves out a few things.
First, we’re assuming that they would both face the same number of opportunities per game. This might or might not be true. Over the course of a 162-game season one would think that the data would even out, but that’s not always the case. For instance, if Jeter’s range was poorer while Giambi was around, he might have a hard time getting to a ball, thereby rushing the throw and forcing a scoop. This would give more opportunities to Giambi. So while he would have a slightly larger number of scoops total, he would probably have a worse percentage.
In fact, this does leave out missed scoops, data I’m sure is available with Defensive Misplays. How many balls did Giambi fail to scoop vs. Teixeira? Even more importantly, how many times did a throw take Giambi off the bag, where Teixeira would have stayed on? These are tough questions to answer even with available data. We know Giambi wasn’t a bad scooper, but it seems that Teixeira is a bit better.
Where Tex is most proficient, of course, is fielding grounders. As Dewan notes, Tex has saved his team 18 runs over the past two years by fielding grounders, while Giambi has cost his team that many runs, a 36-run swing. That’s almost four wins right there, which is significant because it’s just one aspect of defense. I don’t think many would argue that Tex’s ability to field grounders might bring the Yanks an additional two wins over the course of the season.
When Jason Giambi and the Yanks parted company last winter, they did so at the end of a tumultuous eight-year relationship. Yet, Giambi hit a respectable .247/.373/.502 with 32 home runs last year, and there was no reason to think he wouldn’t be at least a decent contributor in Oakland. For Giambi, though, 2009 has been an unmitigated disaster. Before injuring himself this week and landing on the DL, Giambi was hitting just .193/.332/.364 with 11 HR and 72 strike outs. His BABIP — a meager .218 — suggests a fair share of bad luck, but the A’s seem to have soured on Giambi. As Mychael Urban wrote on his blog yesterday, the end might be nigh for Jason Giambi, and the A’s may just buy him out when the season is over. It is shaping up to be a rather ignominious end for the once-great and controversial slugger.