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February 21, 2006

Looking Ahead to 2006 - First Base
by SG

One of the biggest question marks going into to 2005 was what the Yankees could expect from Jason Giambi. Giambi really struggled to start the year, looking completely lost at the plate, drawing walks and doing little else, and drawing complaints from people who felt Ruben Sierra should be starting over him, and mocking derision from the anti-steroids crowd. "This proves that Giambi would have been nothing without steroids!"

Through May 9, Giambi went to plate 101 times. He had 15 hits, 3 HR, and was batting .195/.386/.325. On May 11, Giambi met with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, where the subject of him going to the minors to get his stroke back was broached. This never materialized, but it certainly seemed to spark something in Giambi.

Now back in Oakland for a 3 game series where he was booed mercilessly, Giambi went 3 for 12, However, in the 7th inning on May 15th came what I still feel is the most important hit that Giambi had all season for himself, and possibly for the team. Giambi doubled down the right field line with two outs to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. He slowly regained his hitting stroke, although not his power, hitting .311/.436/.422 over the next 30 games with just 2 HRs.

Then came July, and a monstrous month. .355/.524/.974, 14 HRs and 24 RBI as the Yankees kept afloat during a rough stretch of the schedule with 21 games against Cleveland, Boston, Texas, Los Angeles of Anaheim, and Minnesota.

Giambi fell off a bit in August, hitting .250/.448/.500 with 6 HRs, still very respectable. Giambi finished off the season hitting .244/420/.512 over September and October, and ended the year with a solid line of .271/.440/.535, with 32 HRs.

Did Giambi cheat earlier in his career? Without question. Did he cheat last year? I think he didn't, others may feel differently, and it is certainly their right to think so. He's done it before, which makes him more likely to do it again. While I think it's pretty silly to think that someone who had a pituitary tumor would take Human Growth Hormone and risk the potential return of a growth in their brain that could kill him, some feel it is the only way that Giambi could have recovered. While I think it's stupid that Giambi's "undetectable steroids" didn't work until July, took August off, and then returned to efficacy again in September, some may disagree. Those who feel it's possible that Giambi did what he did last year cleanly will not convince those who don't, or vice versa, so I'd rather not talk about it here. I will say that I hope he's clean, because it's a good story about second chances and a return from adversity, even if his difficulties were self-inflicted.

Getting off my soapbox, all that really matters for the Yankees on the field in 2006 is what Giambi will give them offensively and defensively. I'll look at the same set of projections that I did for Posada, which can be seen in the table below.

In this table, RARP are the offensive runs above a replacement catcher using a linear weights -based formula. FRARP is the defensive fielding runs above a replacement player.

Again, ZiPS projections are from Dan Szymborski at Baseball Thinkfactory. ZiPS says Giambi will hit .250/.401/.488, with 28 HRs, which would be 23 runs better than a replacement first baseman. Combined with last year's defense, that's a 3.0 WARP player.

Tango Tiger's Marcels predict a line of .248/.388/.464, with 24 HRs and 24 2B 407 AB, which would be 18 runs better than a replacement player. This adds up to 2.3 WARP player.

No PECOTA specifics again, but it's more favorable than the first two, predicting Giambi to be 38 runs better than a replacement player on offense. That would make Giambi a 4.7 WARP player.

The last row is a little something I'm calling 'What If?' What if Giambi hit how he did from May 15 through the end of the season over a full season? That would be a .288/.454/.584 line, with 46 HRs and would make him 73 runs better than a replacement first baseman offensively. That's pretty unlikely, although I'd love to see it.

Giambi gave back 4 runs of his value on defense last year. If he's playing more often in the field this season, that may go up, but his improved offense when he plays first probably makes up for it, so I'll leave it as a -4.

I think that the projections for Giambi are low based on his lost 2004. Giambi was a 5.5 WARP player last year. I'm not sure what the plan is for how much time the Yankees are going to use him at first, but I'd guess they would hope to get 120 games out of him at first, and another 30 at DH.

Tino Martinez has announced his retirement after 16 seasons to take an announcing job at ESPN. Tino will always be remembered as one of the faces of the Yankees 1996-2000 run. Overrated by many Yankee fans and underrated by many statheads, he was a solid player whose time has come. I'm glad he got to retire as a Yankee since it seemed to be important to him. If not for his HR streak early last year, the Yankees probably miss the playoffs. Outside that streak he was pretty bad though, so I think he picked the right time to go. Tino provided .5 WARP last year over 131 games and 303 AB.

I'm going to take a guess at 6.0 WARP for Giambi this year, which would keep the Yankees around the same level as they were in 2005. Despite Giambi's hot hitting from May to October, he's going to be 35 and has had enough injuries that getting certain production out of him is going to be an open question.

Andy Phillips will back up Giambi at first base, but it's tough to guess how much playing time he will see as a 1B. From what I've read from Joe Torre, he won't play much DH at all. He's probably right around replacement level, maybe a bit better, so I wouldn't expect him to skew the numbers either way.