Monday, February 18, 2008

The Giambi Saga

On this day when Andy Pettitte stands up to face the music, I'm choosing to look at another prominent Yankee known to have abused PEDs. Pettitte, for his part, said what he had to say and was extremely humble in doing do. Giambi cooperated with multiple investigations over the years and has been one of the only players involved in this juiced era to have fessed up to his "crimes", at least behind closed doors.

Pettitte will go out a beloved son of the Yankees farm system, a champion, and an ultimately flawed human being like the rest of us. Some of the shine is off the legend of Andy Pettitte, but it's hard to forget what the team did from 1996-2001, prior to his admitted use of HGH. Giambi, on the other hand, came to the Yankees after the magic was over and has done little to bring glory back to the Bronx. He's had his moments in pinstripes and we've made the playoffs every year that he's been in our uniform, but the question has to be asked of the post 2001 Yankees, "What was this group made of?"

One of the first thing you have to discuss is the payroll of the 2002-2008 Yankees and the idea that big name, high ticket players would bring another set of rings to the franchise. It hasn't and a lot of money has been thrown away in the process. Of course, Brian Cashman is trying to right the ship on this front and will make a huge step in that direction this season with the young pitchers. The bigger step will be taken next season when some big contracts come off the books. Jason Giambi is at the center of that and really is the symbol for the 2002-2008 version of the Bronx Bombers. Lots of offense, lots of wins, no titles.

It's not fair to lay any of this on Giambi. For his part, he's produced a lot of positive results with his bat and when you look at his total body of work for the Yankees, he's only missed significant time in two seasons, 2004 and 2007. For the Yankees, Giambi has produced a batting line of .263/.410/.525 and has averaged 38 home runs per 162 games. In some seasons, those would be close to MVP numbers. If he'd managed to hold any of his prolific batting average ratios in New York, he'd probably have one in our uniform. From 2002-2007 Jason Giambi hit the 16th most home runs in all of baseball despite missing half of two seasons. He's 7th in OBP and 25th in SLG over the same time. He actually has been hit by more pitches than everyone in the sport over that stretch, other than David Eckstein, Jason Kendall, and Craig Biggio.

A few things have worked against Jason Giambi since his arrival. His slow start certainly set off his time as a Yankee on the wrong note, and despite that "True Yankee" moment when he beat Minnesota in extra innings, in the rain, with that grand slam, somehow I think we're still waiting for something. He helped make our big Pedro Martinez comeback in the playoffs, so it's hard to say he never produced in a big game. Still....we're waiting. The steroids issue is a big part of the cloud hanging over Giambi's time in pinstripes, but I'm not sure that it's the morality of his drug use that bothers most Yankee fans. I think it's an unspoken sense that we paid HUGE money for a product that didn't work as well as we thought it would. The breakdown of Giambi's batting average makes that perception very real. Getting on base at a 41% clip and clubbing 35+ home runs every year is impressive, but it's easy for the eyes to process that to the brain if a big chunk of that OBP comes from raking. He hasn't.

We're still waiting for a .320 batting average to go along with all the walks and homers. If he got a hit once every three times up and mixed in some walks, we'd think a lot more highly of him somehow. The perception, I think, is that the drug abuse robbed him of his ability to hit for average. At least, that's my perception. I remember the problems he had with his eyes and his back and wonder how they affected his ability to make consistent contact. We all know that he's patient and when he connects it's going to travel a long way, but even though it goes against my good sense, I think he needed to get a big single or double more often to make us feel like we got our money's worth.

I've had a love/hate relationship with Giambi in his time here. I don't like him all that much. He isn't a classic Yankee. He's a perfect Oakland Athletic to me. That's just an aesthetic sense. When he came to us, and took all that money, I expected him to do what A-Rod has done in the uniform. Even A-Rod's "down years" have matched Giambi's better seasons, but he plays the field and has put up some historic Yankee seasons winning 2 MVPs. Giambi has had success, but it hasn't been of the historic variety. Maybe that's not fair, but when you win an MVP and take $100 million, a lot is expected in the Bronx spotlight. Funny how Giambi has rarely been booed, while A-Rod has had trouble. I guess Giambi is seen as authentic, even authentically flawed, while A-Rod seems a big fake or managed in comparison. I don't get it. I've wanted to boo Giambi 100s more times than I ever thought to boo A-Rod.

What do we expect for 2008? I imagine he should give us the 130-140 games with 35 homers and a ton of walks. I'd guess that he'll sit more this year with the DH role being filled by Matsui and Damon on occasion. He'll carry the team in stretches, but none of it will matter unless a title is brought to the Bronx in October. Whatever the end to the season, however, I think the "Giambi era" will always leave a bad taste in our collective mouths as a period of wasted opportunities. It's not really fair to pin it on Jason, but I'll be honest, I can't wait until he's gone.

I'll cheer for him this season, but when it's all said and done, title or no, I will breathe a sigh of relief when that big contract is off the books and some of the star power that was brought in during the 2002-2008 period is gone. The same can be said of Mike Mussina in many respects. Pavano will be out. Choices will be made on Abreu and Farnsworth and others. 2009 will see Matsui and Damon's contracts expire. We'll see something new, good or bad, but I think I'll feel a lot better with a group of guys less "well known" and less well paid than I have with the Sheffield's and Giambi's and Randy Johnson's of the world. Now, if only we could get back Nick Johnson I'd feel better. Go Yankees!!!

4 comments:

Big Apple Sports said...

Interesting take on Giambi, I enjoyed reading it. With the last year of his contract coming up, I've thought a lot about his time in the Bronx too. Check out this post I made on my blog, www.bigapplesports.net about my thoughts on the Giambi era:

http://bigapplesports.net/2008/02/12/a-look-at-the-jason-giambi-era/

ChrisV82 said...

I have to say that I was never a big fan of Giambi, but the more I learn about sabremetrics and the more I come to accept those areas as a better way of analyzing baseball, the more I respect what Giambi did, even while hurt. Every year he was always able to get on base, even the bad years. He hit .208 in 2004 and still had a better OBP (.342) than people hitting near .300, and he was still a threat to go long. He put up HoF level OPS and EqA numbers (if the HoF voters ever considered such statistics, that is).

Giambi is also an example of the pros and cons of steroids. Giambi had natural talent which the drugs enhanced; his brother did not have the same results, because his brother was not as good. Giambi also had his body break down prematurely because of the drugs. Thus, he elevated his career but cost himself playing time.

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