Return of the Giambino
Tonight we get to see Jason Giambi’s return to the Bronx. I’ve seen some hostile comment in the press about Giambi, but beyond general disapproval of Giambi’s juicing, this anger is misplaced.
No, the Yankees didn’t win any championships during Giambi’s stay, but the team had many faults that had nothing to do with its first baseman-DH. As for the man himself, Giambi’s limitations were known to the Yankees when they picked him up, and it was apparent back in December, 2001 that the seven-year length of the contract was likely to bite the Yankees. As I wrote at the time, a player who isn’t terribly mobile at 30 — and the Empire State Building has moved more in the last 50 years than Giambi has in his whole career — is going to be a statue at 35.
Put the juice aside, because if anything is clear from the past few years it’s that no one inside baseball was ignorant of what players were doing to maintain their amazing physiques. I’m not saying that the Yankees necessarily had specific information that Giambi was juicing, but that they had to know it was a realistic possibility that anyone they acquired was doing some chemical dabbling. It wouldn’t have been practical for the Yankees to rule out acquiring all players suspected of having fun with pharmaceuticals, because the culture had been so thoroughly corrupted.
Thus: for their seven years of dough the Yankees expended, they got five very good years and two injury years. Injuries happen, and as I said, the cause is immaterial, or simply a predicable consequence of what was happening in baseball at the time. Giambi hit .260/.404/.521 with 209 home runs (tenth on the club list). He hit over 40 home runs twice, and over 30 three times, hit .300 once, and had more than 100 walks four times. Yankees who outhit Giambi in a career of more than 2,500 plate appearances, relative to league (as measured by OPS): Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, A-Rod, Charlie Keller and Reggie Jackson. That’s it, for the whole history of the franchise. That’s a successful signing. Did he field well? No, but he shouldn’t have been expected to. Did he run the bases? Nope, but he never could. Did he age? Yes, as do we all. Was he Reggie Jackson in the postseason? No, but he hit fairly well.
Though he was friendly the few times I talked with him, Giambi isn’t one of my favorite players. The steroid culture hurt baseball, and basically all for vanity’s sake, and his relative lack of production when DHing forced the Yankees into some disadvantageous defenses. Yet, to say that Giambi robbed the Yankees is a stretch. He was no longer an MVP-level player after 2002, and maybe he was never a guy to teach a class on professional ethics, but he was one of the most productive hitters the club ever had. That’s what the Yankees paid for and that’s what they got.
YANKEES RAINOUT THEATRE
No game yesterday means no home runs to increase our wonder and paranoia about the new ballpark. In the last day we’ve seen several articles attempting to account for what may be a small-sample fluke. AccuWeather.com talked about changed wind flow. Occasional YES-guest Tyler Kepner of the New York Times reported on Greg Rybarczyk’s finding that the contour of the right field wall means that the right-center field wall in Stadium II is effectively nine feet shorter than the one in Yankee Stadium Classic. Either explanation works to explain the new park’s dynamics, although the wind best explains what I felt I was seeing last Friday, balls finding a second gear as they reached their apogee. An intriguing thought: what if it’s both?
Meanwhile, the combination of rainout and off-day on Thursday means the Yankees get a no-brainer opportunity to bag on Chien-Ming Wang’s next start. Fangraphs.com lists the average velocity of Wang’s fastball is at 90.5 mph, down from an average speed of 91.8 mph a year ago and 92.7 mph in 2007. I don’t know if that one mph decrease is significant in terms of the batter experience, but just on a superficial basis, the mild drop would seem to give credence to the Yankees’ argument that the problem is mechanical, not physical. You would expect that if a pitcher isn’t throwing the ball with ease, his velocity is going to be negatively affected, and you would expect that if he figures out the problems he’s having with his release, he might find that missing mile again.
Another data point is the charting of Wang’s release point made possible the PitchFX tool at Brooks Baseball (thanks to Marc Normandin for pulling the information together). It seems that Wang’s release point is about six inches higher than it was a year ago. Six inches doesn’t seem like much in real-world terms, but when you’re dealing with a sinkerball, the extra elevation could be the difference between the batter getting on top of the ball and pounding it into the ground and hitting solidly on a line to the outfield.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
? Justin Masterson didn’t miss a beat as he shifted to the starting rotation for the Red Sox. Meanwhile, shortstop Jed Lowrie is going to go for surgery and could be out for six weeks. One wonders if they’ll live with Nick Green or try to make a move. They have a few interesting minor league shortstops, but none would seem to be ready to jump up to the Majors. Argenis Diaz, the Double-A shortstop, is supposed to have terrific range but probably won’t hit.
? Masterson’s fine pitching knocked the Orioles a game under .500, where they’ll probably stay. That is, they’ll stay under .500, not they’ll finish at 80-82 or something. When the Yankees were in Baltimore, the O’s were talking about a new, winning attitude. I wonder if they’re still saying things like that. Tonight’s rookie starter is Brad Bergeson, a control guy whose upper-level strikeout rates don’t portend much, unless he manifests a Wang-like groundball rate…
? Nice Major League debut for the Nats’ Jordan Zimmerman, who beat a Braves team that has struggled to find its hitting shoes in the early going. The newfangled bullpen held the lead, too. You wonder if any clubs have put in a call on a resurgent Nick Johnson (.381/.458/.429). The Angels, maybe? Kendry Morales is batting only .227/.277/.318, and while he’s going to come around and do better than that, he won’t out-hit a healthy Johnson. A momentarily healthy Johnson. Johnson if he’s healthy, when he’s healthy. Which is sometimes. Occasionally. Alternating Tuesdays. Check your local TV listings for details.
? Ross Ohlendorf had a fine start against the Marlins, holding them to two hits in seven innings. It’s nice to see Olhendorf come around and exploit his sinking stuff, but I think there is going to be more of this kind of thing for the Marlins in the future. In the game they walked once and struck out six times, and their lineup suggests there’s going to be a lot more than that. Meanwhile, the Pirates go a game over .500, once again endangering their 16-year losing streak. Their record in those years: 1104-1419 (.438).
? The Mets signed Wily Mo Pena. If he makes it up to the big club, it will be interesting to see him wandering about in Citi’s big outfield. Imagine the Hebrews in the desert, with more grass and less sand.