Thursday, May 29, 2008

How's he doing it?

I type this with a bit of trepidation. I type this only as it was asked to me at work yesterday. I'm about to become a reluctant skeptic and it doesn't make me feel so hot.

What's gotten into Jason Giambi?

The question drips with accusation, implied guilt, unfair treatment. It's also a question in direct violation of "small sample size". But, how does a player flick the switch as acutely as Giambi's done this month? I don't want to hear more about the thong, or that gawd-awful moustache. But how do you explain it? Is it just a guy getting hot for a stretch, or do we have to consider something more insidious given his history?

Remember, too, that this is a guy likely playing for another contract, somewhere, as the Yanks will most likely not exercise his $22M option (paying a $5M buyout).

The evidence
March/April 2008: 23 games, 5 HR, 12 hits, .164 BA, .315 OBP
May 2008: 20 games, 6 HR, 21 hits, .339 BA, .481 OBP

(click here for more splits that are pretty amazing thanks to the always interesting

What's also interesting is that Giambi's monthly splits are eerily even across his career:

  • Month: BA/OBP/HR
  • March/April: .281/.402/66
  • May: .289/.406/61
  • June: .301/.429/64
  • July: .289/.404/65
  • August: .283/.420/57
  • September/October: .288/.406/62
The last time Giambi batted over .300 for a season was his first year in NY (2002), when he hit .314 with 41 HR and a hefty .435 OBP. He hit 41 the following year but his BA slumped to .250. During 2004, he suffered with the "parasite" and other health issues, hitting just 12 HR while batting just .208. Giambi bounced back in 2006 and 2006, batting .271 and .253, respectively, banging out a combined 69 HR.

So what's going on here? Just a hot player? Just a healthy player? Just a superstitious player? Or something more?

Not fair, I know, but given his background, do we have any choice but to consider the alternatives?

Also strange, last night, Giambi hit his 11th HR of the season, which was also his 187th as a Yankee. He also hit 187 as a member of the A's. Doesn't mean anything, but accidental symmetry is always neat.


themarksmith said...

Well, his power numbers aren't up from the previous month. It's not unheard of for someone to go really hot/ really cold or vice versa (see Eric Byrnes). I kind of doubt that he'd use knowing how they'll focus on him.

Jason said...

I know. It's really too short a sample size but we had a good discussion at work so I thought it was at least worth posting it for smart guys like you to consider, debate, mock, ridicule, etc.

Except that HgH is still not detectable, no matter how bright the focus. Just sayin'...

I also haven't checked his spray charts (sorry, work got in the way), but it SEEMS that he's going opposite field a heckuvalot more than he had been. Is that an indicator of anything? Doubt it, but it's just a change from a well-established norm.

Anonymous said...

Just to add to what "themarksmith" said, Giambi's BABIP thru May 4th was a ridiculously low .113. Since that time his BABIP has been a robust .385 so clearly he's getting tremendously lucky with his balls in play lately that he wasn't getting early on this season.

Giambi's BABIP for his career thru May 4th was .307 so the sample size does come into play on mere correction alone but that would indicate that Giambi's hot streak is going to continue on for some time before he can offset the .113 start to get back to .307 which is his established BABIP.

Since the tear started on May 6th, his power numbers are actually way up. Thru May 4th, Giambi's AB:HR was 16 and that has decreased to 9.17. Over 550 AB, Giambi would hit 60HR! His extra base hit rate has increased as well from on extra base hit ever 10AB to one extra base hit for every 4.58AB!

Over 550AB that's 120 extra base hits. If he hit 60HR that means likely 60 doubles given his lack of triples. Giambi's best AB:HR rate was in 2000 when he had a 11.86AB:HR rate and he won the MVP. The most extra base hits he's ever hit was 87 back in 2001.

To be fair, Giambi is on pace for 34HR and 83RBI which wouldn't be fantastic by his peak numbers, but his current OPS+ of 160 would be almost identical to his 2005 numbers and better than some of his younger years in Oakland. Assuming he plays out the rest of the season without missing a game, Giambi would play in 152 games.

If that were to happen at his current to date pace he'd hit 40HR and have 96RBI. If he stays as hot as he has been, then you are talking about 55HR and 125RBI if he doesn't miss time.

I don't see how you can get away from the HgH suspicions if he keeps it up.

Jason said...

The Baseball Savant (great blog, BTW... already on the updated blogroll for those who haven't been there yet!)is spot on.

That's exactly the level of research I would have loved to get to but didn't have the cycles to burn on this today.

Great work!

Again, for the record and to clarify, I don't think he's doing anything but getting a bit luckier in his BABIP, but, it was raised as a concern/thought amongst my peers so I thought it was worthy of a chat here.

And of course, you guys came thru with some good data.


Anonymous said...

One more thing about the Giambino. He's not really a 3 true outcomes hitter in the Rob Deer/Dave Kingman/Adam Dunn mode. I can't remember the exact citation, but I think Baseball Prospectus did some type of analysis using their PECOTA projection system talking about how the three true outcomes hitters don't age particular well. Kingman was done at age-37 and Deer was done at age-32. Giambi is 37 this season but he's a lifetime .290 hitter.

Another way of putting it was to suggest very young players who establish an older player's skill set at that earlier of an age don't play baseball for a very long time.

Despite striking out a lot, Giambi was never a 3 true outcomes player in his youth because he did hit for some average and extra base hits that weren't doubles.

Now that he's developed into a true older player's skill set, it's not entirely surprising what he's doing. If he keeps up the pace he's been on for the last 3.5 weeks then yes something is crazy, but if Giambi ends up with 35HR and 95RBI at the age of 37 and hits 250/410/530 would it be all that surprising given his incredible plate discipline combined with his power over 140-145 games?

I don't necessarily thing so. This is just a differing view from the HgH suspicions. If Giambi winds up hitting 50+HR then maybe you star to wonder, but right now he's going through a BABIP correction which isn't abnormal.

Maybe it's a time thing. If he keeps it up for another couple of weeks then it's a great hot streak but if he keeps it up for another couple of months, then what?