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Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Comparing Giambis

One Giambi, two Giambi.

It’s inevitable that two brothers playing in the big leagues will be compared.  For no one is that more true than the Giambi brothers—two hitters who lately seem to be as adept at making news as they are at getting on base.  Besides the vague reports of Jeremy Giambi misbehaving on an airplane, and Jason Giambi’s nationally televised insult of his former team’s home city, each of the Giambi brothers has been involved in a transaction subject to a great deal of scrutiny.  These are, of course, the signing of free agent and older brother Jason by the New York Yankees, and the trading of younger brother Jeremy from the A’s to the Phillies for John Mabry.

If nothing else, those two transactions collectively seem to represent one more yardstick by which the elder Giambi’s superiority is measured.  Just about any comparison will yield the same results: Jason is inevitably mentioned as an MVP candidate; Jeremy struggles to get playing time.  Jason’s triple crown stats include a .304 batting average, 32 home runs, and 102 RBI; Jeremy has posted a .270 average, hit 19 home runs, and driven in 42.  Jason has an OBP of .432 and a slugging percentage of .572; Jeremy is getting on base at a .420 clip and slugging .520.

Based on that, it would be reasonable when speculating as to the difference between the two brothers that Jason has a fair amount more power, walks a little more often, and probably has a better batting average on balls in play than his younger brother.  And if you looked at those stats so far in 2002, what would you find?

Giambi #1       .896        1.93      .198         .316
Giambi #2       .814        1.88      .173         .313


The surprising fact is not just that the two Giambis are fairly close in all these categories—it’s that Giambi #1 is Jeremy.  He’s shown more power than Jason despite many arguments that he would never have that kind of power.  And he’s been more likely to walk than Jason, despite Jason’s reputation.

Thus, there’s only one thing left that could account for the difference between Jeremy and Jason in terms on on-base percentage and slugging: strikeouts.  Jeremy in 2002 has posted a K/AB rate of .287; Jason’s is only .187.  That one fact is what’s keeping Jeremy’s batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage below his brother’s.  Here is what each Giambi does when he doesn’t strike out:

Jeremy    .379   .545   .730
Jason     .374   .508   .704

There’s no clear answer as to what this indicates for the future.  However, it’s clear that the difference between the two brothers is much less than some think.  Given Jeremy’s age, his discipline, and his power (he’s 5th in the majors in BB/(AB+BB) and 11th in HR/contact), the chances seem reasonably good that he will be the more valuable Giambi before his brother’s current contract is up.  However, it should be noted that while this is Jeremy’s worst year for strikeouts so far, he has always struck out more often than Jason.

Jeremy’s youth is important, as well.  While it’s questionable to apply Jason Giambi’s development pattern to anyone else, it is notable that he did not attain the kind of power and walk rates currently associated with him until his age 29 season, whereas Jeremy has reached his high levels here in his age 27 season.  Jeremy’s home runs per contact, home runs per hit, total bases per hit, and walk rate are all higher this year, at age 27, than Jason ever reached before age 29.  It’s certainly possible for Jeremy to continue to improve in those categories.

Of course, he needs to be able to play, and that may mean finding a team on which his defense won’t be a liability or a team that feels his offense makes up for his lacking defensive ability.  It’s hard to argue, though, that a team committing to Jeremy as a full time first baseman or designated hitter will not only benefit him but also the team.

If Jeremy can reduce his strikeouts, he may well find himself among the league’s most dangerous hitters.  But even if he doesn’t, he still has a great deal of value—value which, unfortunately, has largely escaped the notice of not only the media but also his team.  Hopefully, that will change, and Jeremy will get a full season next year to show us all what he can do.


Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: September 03, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Walt Davis Posted: September 03, 2002 at 12:44 AM (#606080)
I was wondering to what extent this comparison looks better than it really is due to most of Jeremy's PA's coming against righties.

For Jason from 99-01, he's got a 1142 OPS vs. righties and 944 vs. lefties, with roughly 32.5% of his PA coming against lefties. Jeremy had a 784 OPS against righties and 799 (higher!) against lefties, but only 20% of his PA's came against lefties.

If we look at 2002, Jason's OPS vs. righties is 1050, 892 vs. lefties, with 27.7% of his PA's vs. lefties. Jeremy's OPS vs. righties is 971 and it's 832 vs. lefties, with 23.5% of his PA's against lefties.

So that difference wasn't as much as I expected, at least this year. In about 300 PA's, Jeremy has posted an OPS over 800 against lefties, which is not as good as his brother's, but isn't shabby. He deserves a season to show what he can do.
   2. Darren Posted: September 03, 2002 at 12:44 AM (#606082)
Funny this article appears today. I was just musing this morning on how great it would be to have the Red Sox trade for Giambi. What would it take to get him?

Also pick up Marcus Giles from the underappreciative Braves and we may have something.

What do you guys think it would take to get Giambi now?

Imagine having the brothers facing off in a divisional rivalry. It would sure be fun.
   3. Voros McCracken Posted: September 03, 2002 at 12:44 AM (#606092)
I agree with Ben in principle here, but specifically I don't think the tradeoff is so much BABIP vs. Strikeouts (though I agree that it exists to a small extent) but Home Runs vs. Strikeouts. Jason's advantage is his ability to hit for the same kind of power (more actually, I think it probably is unwise to compare the two based on this year alone), but to do so while striking out less.

Strikeouts and Homers have this relationship where each goes up and down as the other does.

This is one of the main reasons why strikeouts aren't bad for hitters but are good for pitchers. It's how they relate to overall ability for each. For pitchers they are a tell-tale sign of a pitcher who will succeed in preventing hits (which DIPS is the main explanation for), but for hitters they are often a sign of a player taking healthy cuts and maybe being better able to drive the ball.

IOW, as Ben argued, there's no reason to assume Jeremy would be a better hitter if he struckout less because his other numbers are at least in part affected by his current strikeout rate. Lower the strikeout rate, and you might lower the rate at which certain good things happen.
   4. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: September 04, 2002 at 12:45 AM (#606099)
Sorry to be a naysayer, but I have to disagree with a basic premise in this article: that K rate is independent of things like BABIP for batter.

Well, hold on. I never said that. Nor did I say or intend to imply that Jeremy would see his other numbers remain constant if he lowered his K-rate.

I know that K-rate and power are correlated, but I also know that it's not simply a perfectly linear relationship. There are plenty of players for whom fluctuations in K-rate aren't matched by fluctuations in power. Bonds this year has his 2nd lowest K-rate ever and his 2nd-highest HR/contact ever; Bret Boone has his lowest K-rate ever and one of his highest HR/contact ever; in 2001 Jason Giambi had his lowest K-rate ever and his second highest HR/contact. For John Olerud, the two rates are correlated at -.084. For Ted Williams, .092. There's plenty of room for variation in what is a pretty loose relationship between the two stats.

Based on that, and the success that Jeremy's had on contact, I think it's perfectly reasonable to state that "If Jeremy can reduce his strikeouts, he may well find himself among the league's most dangerous hitters." And I also think it's a huge stretch, especially based on what little we've seen so far, to determine conclusively that Jeremy actually is less talented.

...I think it probably is unwise to compare the two based on this year alone...

I agree, but any way of doing it is going to be problematic. There has been one season where Jason posted a better HR/contact than Jeremy has in 2002. Meanwhile, Jeremy has gone from .013 to .049 to .041 to .089 in HR/contact. How do you accurately determine his power level? You probably can't yet. So I don't think going by this year's numbers is any worse than any other method.

Walt, I think you answered your own question, but I will add that when you look at Jeremy's vs. L 2002 numbers, you're getting into some sample size issues. As you say, it would be nice to see at least a season.

F. James, park effects are something to keep in mind, but I wouldn't be comfortable altering these numbers based on park factors or splits; I think this sort of analysis is better served by looking at the raw numbers and keeping the park effects in mind. There's no way to determine the magnitude of the effect they've had, and splits (particularly in this case) would bring down the sample size a little too much.

Thanks as always for the excellent feedback.
   5. Carl Goetz Posted: September 10, 2002 at 12:46 AM (#606160)
Now hold on, Jason went from a K/BB ratio of near 2 in his ouple years as a regular and in his last 3+ years(I would argue that his age 28 season was his coming out season) he has walked more than he K-ed(it was actually 105-106 in '99, but close enough). At the same time he has been lowered his strikeouts(and increasing walks), he has also dramatically increased his HR totals, SLG, ISO, and any other power measure you want. In my opinion, there are 3 types of Ks for a batter. The Stock Car K- Like a steering wheel on a car, every hitter brings a few Ks to the table; Major league Pitchers are just too good for that not to happen. The Rob Deer K- You swing for the fences every time up, your going to K more. The Strike Zone Judgement K- The more experience you have, the less of these type you will have. I would argue that it is this last type of K that Jason cut down on big time at age 28. Most players mature in their SZJ earlier, but Jeremy is still a year behind when Jason did it, so I think their is reason to believe he can do it too. My point is, we can't assume Jeremy will always K more often than Jason. In 20 years, who knows which 1 we'll be talking about as the better brother(or if we'll even still be talking about either of them), but we just don't have the information to make that call now.
   6. ColonelTom Posted: September 11, 2002 at 12:46 AM (#606166)
What makes Mini-G's lack of playing time even more bizarre is that Larry Bowa has been ripping Travis Lee to the press at every turn. The only thing I can figure is that management has told Bowa not to play Giambi to keep him from getting too much money in arbitration.

As the numbers show, Giambi may just be the best all-around hitter on the roster, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu included. FREE MINI-G!!!!

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