Indians 2013 in Review: Jason Giambi (Will he be back, and if so, in what role?)

Jason Miller

The old man still had a few tricks up his sleeve... game-winning tricks.


Jason Giambi

Designated Hitter

Age: 1,969

Acquired: sent back after conquering the Balrog

Contract status: just keep on ample supply of pipeweed on hand

Jason Giambi was a candidate to become manager of the Colorado Rockies last offseason, which is understandable, as he certainly looks more like a manger at this point, with the grey hair and all. They went in a different direction though, and in February Giambi instead signed to play for the Indians. He served as an occasional designated hitter, starting 54 games in that spot, and appeared in another 17 games as a pinch hitter. Looking at his overall numbers, you couldn't say Giambi had a good season:

Year ▴ Age Tm G PA R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2013 42 CLE 71 216 21 34 9 31 23 56 .183 .282 .371 .653 85

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

It'd be easy to say Giambi was a poor use of a roster spot, to be so far below average at the plate, while providing no value in the field or on the bases. I could close the book on him here, and make this the shortest entry in the '2013 in Review' series. To do so though, to look only at those overall numbers, would be to miss the magic Giambi provided this year. Magic I don't think any Indians fan want to forget.

Are you familiar with WPA (Win Probability Added)? Here's a description from FanGraphs:

Most sabermetric statistics are context neutral - they do not consider the situation of a particular event or how some plays are more crucial to a win than others. We know intuitively that a home run in the third inning of a blowout is less important to that win than a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of a close game. Win Probability Added (WPA) captures this difference by measuring how individual players affect their team's win expectancy on a per-play basis.

So if the Indians have a 45% chance of winning when Carlos Santana comes to the plate, and he hits a double that raises the team's chance of winning to 60%, that difference (in decimal form, +.15) is credited to Santana. The results from each of his plate appearances can be added up for the game (or the season, etc.).

Despite player in fewer than half the team's games, and getting something like 30% of a full season's worth of plate appearances, Jason Giambi had 4 of the Indians' top 20 WPA games of the season, more than any other player (Santana had 3, no one else had more than 2). In fact, Giambi had 4 of the top 14 games. Here they are:

June 26 - Indians @ Orioles

Giambi strikes out in the 2nd, then draws a walk before being wiped out by a double play in the 5th. He singles in the 7th, but nothing comes of it. In the 9th though, with the Indians trailing 3-2, Giambi comes up with a runner on first, and doubles to left-center, putting the go-ahead run on second base. He's pulled for a pinch runner, who comes around to score three batters later in a 4-3 win.

WPA: .362 (14th-best of 2013)

July 29 - Indians vs. White Sox

Giambi is called on to pinch hit in the bottom of the 9th, with the score tied 2-2. He launches the third pitch he sees to deep center field for a game-winning home run.

WPA: .373 (12th-best of 2013)

August 14 - Indians @ Twins

Giambi grounds out in the 2nd, but singles and scores in the 4th, pulling the Tribe within two. He walks in the 6th, and in the 8th inning, with the team down 7-4 and two men on, Giambi hits a laser down the right-field line and over the wall to tie the game, which the Indians go on to win 9-8 in extra innings.

WPA: .391 (10th-best of 2013)

September 24 - Indians vs. White Sox

The Indians take a 3-2 lead into the 9th, but lose it when Chris Perez allows two home runs. Every game has the feel of a must win, and this loss will hurt more than most. Michael Brantley manages to reach base, and Giambi steps to the plate to face Durin's Bane Addison Reed, who came from deep within Khazad-dûm Chicago's South Side. Then came perhaps the greatest moment of the entire season:

Wait, that was the wrong clip...

There it is.

WPA: .865 (best of 2013)

That was the #1 WPA game of the season for the Indians, and the top pinch-hitting WPA of the season for all of Major League Baseball. It was 'Giambi the Grey' who strode to the plate, but he came out of that celebration 'Giambi the White,' an even more powerful force for good.

Gandalf has says he'd like to come back in 2014, and I'd be happy to have him, I just hope he realizes it's time to retire his staff and serve as an adviser to the elves, dwarves, hobbits, and men of Cleveland.

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