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July 5, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

At first, it looked like the Yankees would have a challenge on their hands Monday. They'd be facing a pitcher who was 5-0 in his last eight starts with a 2.65 ERA, and sending out an inconsistent starter against a lineup that, when adjusted for park, was one of the best in baseball.

Or not. The Yankees locked the win up pretty early last night, scoring seven runs in the first two, not giving up a run until the seventh inning, when it was 9-0. Lieber was excellent, and they got homers from A-Rod (New fun nickname from sjohnny: Inanimate Carbon-Rod), Sheffield, Bernie and Sierra. Everybody got on base, and while Jason Giambi only got two singles and a walk, he hit two long foul balls late in the game that were inspiring: after playing an entire game, he still had pop in his bat. His strength is coming back, and he could be an offensive force again soon.

Now, while Giambi hasn't played anywhere near his peak since 2002, the treatment he's gotten from the fans and media since Day One has been somewhat ridiculous. Since signing as a free agent he's put up: .277/.418/.549/.966 (.325 GPA), which sure as heck isn't the .330/.458/.617/1.075 (.360) he put up in his final three years with the A's, but he's been the best hitter on the team for each of the past two seasons (and still has time to be that this year).

Oh, how we long for Tino! Tino, who had a .279 GPA as a Yankee, and a .268 since then (and that's including his .288 GPA this year)! And he was so clutch! Unlike that Giambi character, who never did anything clutch... except hit that 14th inning Grand Slam in 2002, and those two homers off of Pedro Martinez in Game Seven.

He was no Super-Tino, with his .245 postseason GPA with the Yanks, or his .257 World Series GPA. Much better than Giambi with his .304 postseason GPA with the Yanks, and .302 in the World Series!

Well, Tino had that homer in 2001. In a series they lost. In which he had 3 other hits, all singles. And there was the Grand Slam in Game 1 in 1998. In a tied game. In a series they swept. Yes, they were both clutch hits, but how much did they really change?

Now don't get me wrong, I was a Tinophile back then, too. He was an important part of their title run -- but he was, except for 1997, an average first baseman, at best. If the Yankees had kept Tino Martinez instead of Giambi, they would have won 10 fewer games over the past two seasons -- a little more than if they had replaced Derek Jeter with Cristian Guzman. They certainly wouldn't have beaten Boston last year, let alone Florida, and they wouldn't have gotten past Anaheim. And while Tino's doing okay this year, his GPA is .0002 better than Giambi's this year.

Even more nonsensical is the concept that Tony Clark has rendered Giambi almost unnecessary, by playing good defense -- AT FIRST BASE!!!

Now, Clark has made some outstanding plays at first, and is much better at throwing the ball than Giambi (not that it's saying much), but first is the position where you almost always choose offense over defense, and considering that Giambi has a .288 GPA to Clark's .261, this isn't even something that deserves consideration. If Giambi's feeling healthy enough to play first, he should play first -- and Bernie should DH.

Is Giambi overpaid? Yes. Is his performance disappointing? Yes. But the former problem is the Yankees' own fault for paying him what any sensible analyst could see was too much, and the latter is due to injuries, and somewhat unrealistic expectations.

People keep analyzing Giambi at his worst, and ignore him at his best. It's not fair to him, and it's not what's best for the Yankees.