Sunday, July 6, 2014

Giambi Got Screwed

Love him or hate him, Giambi's been ruthlessly victimized by defensive shifts
The widespread implementation of defensive shifts in recent years has taken God knows how many hits away from lefty pull hitters such as David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, and Jason Giambi. How frustrating is it to watch hitters smash ground balls and line drives into short right field, only to see a re-arranged defender waiting there to gobble it up and throw them out by 20 feet at first base. Once reserved for Ted Williams and few others, shifts nowadays pose an obstacle for many players with ground ball pull tendencies, even those who bat from the right side like Edwin Encarnacion.

Giambi, now a 43 year-old role player for the Cleveland Indians, estimates he's lost 200 hits to shifts over the course of his 20 year career, which is a huge deal. Imagine if all those hits went through for base knocks; what would Giambi's numbers look like then?

If one gives him credit for 200 additional hits, his career batting average soars from .277 to .304. People today don't think of Giambi as a .300 hitter because he's batted over .260 only once since 2003, but he hit as high as .342 in 2000 and owned a .309 career average through the 2002 season. Surely we'd have a much different impression of him if he had a higher career batting average than Willie Mays and just a smidge below Hank Aaron's. Similarly, his OBP would jump from .399 to .422, which would rank 17th all-time and second only to Barry Bonds for players that debuted after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

Even if we assume all those hits would have been singles (and some surely would have been some doubles), giving Giambi 200 extra total bases raises his career slugging percentage from .517 to .545, which would rank just outside the top-30. His career OPS would be at least 50 points higher than it is now, and at .966 would rank as the 15th highest mark of all-time. If Giambi's estimates are correct, he would be one of the select few players to exceed a .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage for his career.

Steroids aside, Giambi didn't dominate long enough to merit serious Hall of Fame consideration. Without the shift, however, he'd be a slam dunk for Cooperstown with career slash stats in the same neighborhood as Manny Ramirez, Frank Thomas, and Mickey Mantle. So that's something to think about the next time your favorite player rips a rocket into the hole and heads back to the dugout with nothing to show for it. Shifts aren't just costing him hits: they could be costing him a Hall of Fame plaque as well.


  1. Shifts are part of the game. Nobody's getting screwed. Shame on him for not being able to hit to a wide open field.

  2. The complete hitter should be able to hit to all fields(just ask just about any player in the all-time top five list in career hits)and thus make the defense think twice about shifting. The only reason Teddy Ballgame hit to the opposite field at all was because Ty Cobb relentlessly hounded him about it and we all know that hitting advice from the Georgia Peach is worth heeding.

  3. Good points, but it's very difficult for hitters who've made a living out of pulling the ball to suddenly change their swing to start going the other way. Williams worried that doing so would ruin his swing, and he had one of the sweetest swings of all time. Probably wouldn't turn out too well for a lesser hitter in his 30s to suddenly decide he's going to hit to the opposite field more, which goes against his instincts as a power hitter.