Jason Giambi’s excellent peak won’t be enough for the Hall

(Keith Allison – cc-by-sa-2.0)

There are a number of things that will prevent Jason Giambi from immortality in Cooperstown next summer. His name’s inclusion in the BALCO scandal and Mitchell Report are sure to keep him out of consideration for many voters even before considering his numbers. Additionally, his career stats just fall short of some of the traditional milestones that ensure a plaque. But one thing’s for sure: when Giambi was at his best, he was a Hall of Fame caliber hitter.

Those are just ridiculous numbers during a nine year period — four with Oakland, five with the Yankees. And that includes his 2004 campaign, which was a lost season in which he played just 80 games and had a 90 OPS+. A thankfully benign tumor kept him off the field for much of the summer. All told, Giambi racked up nearly 45 WAR during that span.

That nine year period includes each of Giambi’s seven best seasons per WAR, one of the inputs to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric that measures Hall of Fame worthiness. Giambi’s WAR-7 is 42.2, which is right around where the average Hall of Fame first baseman stands (42.7). It’s also better than the WAR-7 for other enshrined first basemen, including: Cap Anson, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, Harmon Killebrew, and Tony Pérez.

But Giambi only finished his career with 50.5 WAR, well short of the average first baseman in the Hall (66.8). That’s partially because he got a later start to his career — he wasn’t an everyday player until he was 25 in 1996. And once his peak ended in 2006 (at 35 years-old), he only had one more strong season thereafter (2008, his swan song in New York). He was a declining role player from there on out.

WAR isn’t everything, of course. It’s a great birds-eye view of Giambi’s merits, and it does clearly depict that Giambi isn’t Hall-worthy before contemplating PEDs. He was unquestionably one of the league’s best hitters for a good period of time, but he didn’t have the longevity of the typical Hall of Fame first baseman. Still, Giambi does have a number of accolades and numbers that make his career memorable:

  • 2000: American League MVP
  • Three top-5 AL MVP finishes, including 2000. One other time in the top-10, three others in top-18.
  • Two Silver Slugger Awards
  • 5x All-Star
  • 440 career homers (43rd All-Time)

All that with a lifetime .277/.399/.516 (139 OPS+) ain’t too shabby of a career. The PED cloud will always hover over Giambi, but those numbers are undoubtedly impressive.

Enough consideration of his Hall of Fame worthiness, though. No need to drone on about it when we know what the answer is. Instead, as this is a Yankees-centric blog, let’s turn to Giambi’s career in New York.

The power hitting first baseman inked a seven year $120 million deal with the Bombers after the 2001 season, replacing fan favorite Tino Martinez. Giambi, who had hit .338/.476/.653 (193 OPS+) with 81 homers in his final two years in Oakland didn’t get off to his best start in the Bronx. It wasn’t a poor beginning with a new club, but it was underwhelming considering what he’d done before.

Through May 11 of his first season with the Yankees, Giambi had a .273/.369/.475 line with just six homers. That’s really good! But not prime-Giambi good. He started to turn things around from there, though. He hit a homer in each of the next two games and just a couple days later, hit this memorable bomb:

The Giambino! The first baseman would go on to finish the year strong with a full season batting line of .314/.435/.598 (172 OPS+) with 41 homers and 7.1 WAR. It was his best season in pinstripes.

Giambi had another big year in 2003, with 41 homers and a 148 OPS+, but his batting average dipped to .250. He’d never exceed .300 again, but maintained his elite on-base skills thanks to a keen eye at the dish. But even in a “down” year per his standards, Giambi delivered in a big way in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS:

Before the 8th inning rally, before Mariano Rivera’s three shutout innings, and before Aaron Boone’s walk off homer, Giambi helped keep the Yankees within sniffing distance. Those two homers against nemesis Pedro Martínez were integral to one of the greatest games in history.

As mentioned earlier, Giambi missed most of 2004 because of a benign tumor. After the season, there was talk of voiding his contract as the BALCO investigation unraveled. Per the San Francisco Chronicle’s reporting, Giambi had testified to using steroids between 2001 and 2003. Obviously, Giambi stuck around and carefully apologized prior to the 2005 campaign.

On the field, things went just fine in Giambi’s next two seasons in the Bronx. He belted 69 homers and hit .262/.426/.547 (154 OPS+). During this period, one distinct memory I have of him is when I was in attendance for this walk off dinger against José Mesa:

In 2007, a foot injury derailed his season. He missed all of June and July and one week of August and ended the year with an un-Giambi like 107 OPS+.

Giambi rebounded in 2008, his final season with the Yankees. It was also his last year as an everyday player. Then 37 years-old, Giambi hit .247/.373/.502 (128 OPS+) and swatted 32 homers. He also brought the mustache craze to the Bronx:

And that was that for Giambi’s career in the Bronx. The Yankees handed the reigns to Mark Teixeira in free agency thereafter. Giambi would go on to play for Oakland again briefly in 2009, before a move to Colorado that August where he’d stay through 2012. Giambi played out the last two seasons of his career with Cleveland before hanging up his spikes after the 2014 season.

Now, Giambi is an Old-Timer. He made his first appearance at Old-Timers’ day at Yankee Stadium in 2018 and came back again this year. It’s probably safe to say that he’ll be a regular at the annual celebration for the long-term, provided he doesn’t land have a conflicting coaching gig.

So Giambi may not be headed for Cooperstown, but he had quite the career regardless. He was a prolific slugger and on-base machine for the better part of a decade. And, by the numbers, he was one of the Yankees’ best free agent signings ever. The Bombers may have never won a World Series title with Giambi, but he was a key cog in the lineup for a long time in the Bronx. Maybe he’ll get a few votes this winter, though I suspect he won’t reach the five percent threshold to remain on the ballot.

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4 Comments

  1. RetroRob

    Hall of Fame bat. Didn’t maintain the absolute peak long enough. It’s funny that some Yankee fans will still list Giambi’s contract as a bust. Your numbers show clearly why he wasn’t. Ideally, he should have been the Yankees DH, as Ortiz was with Boston. Not a good fielder, but he could swing the pine.

  2. chip56

    Eddard – never change.

  3. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    Nor should it be, Derek. Giambi was and never will be an HOFer. I thought his contract was one of the worst the Yankees ever signed right up there with Pavano, Ellsbury and Happ. Throw in the steroid use and there’s just no way he gets in. I’d put Teixera in the HOF before Giambi. He was nowhere near as good as Bonds and Clemens and they aren’t in. And Alex probably won’t get in which will be a crime worthy of capital punishment. Here will be the ballot I cast this year –

    Jeter – 100% Yes
    Clemens – Yes
    Bonds – Yes
    Alex – Yes
    Andy Pettitte – Yes
    Jorgie Posada – Yes
    Bernie Williams – Yes
    Schilling – 100% No
    Larry Walker – No
    Manny Rameriz – No
    Omar Vizquel – No
    Gary Sheffield – No
    Bobby Abreu – No

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