Jason Giambi and the All Lefty Platoon?

Steve recently examined the list of remaining free agent targets. Among them was Mr. Jason Giambi, former scourge of Oakland and New York. Let us examine what the good sir from West Covina, California, can bring to the Rays.

The Man
First of all, he's a lefty slugger, most known for his state-trooper mustaches and ridiculous on-base percentage (.405 for his career). Oh, yeah. And steroids.

Anyway, Ol' Giambino has popped over 400 homers in his major league career, three times exceeding 40 homers (before admitting steroid use, mind you). Recently, though, he has met with tougher times, leaving the Yankees at age 37 only to earn a fraction of his previous salary while performing weakly for the Rockies and Athletics.

Well, a 40 year-old Jason Giambi is probably finally the right price for the Rays. Last year, in limited time with Colorado, he earned a near-poverty salary of $1.75M, while hitting a scant 7% above league average (according to wRC+). As recently as 2008, though, he hit 32 home runs and hit 33% above average.

These last two years have presented quite an intriguing pattern, however. He seems to have lost his knack for crushing righties: He was 10% and 5% below average against north-paws in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Granted, the evidence is lacking because he only had about a full season of plate appearances between those two years.

Yet, at the same time righties were sending Giambi to the bench in frustration, Giambi was delivering the same treatment to lefty pitchers. In only about 150 appearances against lefties in 2009 and 2010, Giambi slapped 9 homers and hit about 30% above average.

In other words, Giambi has presented himself possessing the intriguing Reverse Platoon Split. In all likelihood, the reverse split is a product of random variation. But, if we make that assumption, we should just as equally assume the weak split against righties likely to disappear.

The Plan

As noted before, Giambi earned a laughable pittance in 2010 ($1.75M -- HAHAHA! I earn more writing poetry!), which likely puts him perfectly within the Rays budgetary schemes. In fact, we might be able to snag him for a minor league contract if the invisible hand smiles upon us, but let's instead assume we can acquire him and his funny split for $1.5M over 1 year (which is not unreasonable: it's the Jim Thome contract from last year).

So, the Rays could conceivably sign Giambi cheap and then pursue some hitter to pop righties, say likewise-left-handed Russell Branyan for $1.5M, 1yr (his same contract from last year). And, when Branyan inevitably gets injured, the Rays can slot Giambi into his role, seeing if the aging slugger can regain his vision against righties.

How much would this help? Well, let's use some basic projections here. Bill James expects both players to hit a .351 weighted on-base percentage (or wOBA). His projections look like this:

      Giambi   Branyan
PA      333      434
HR       15       24
wOBA   .351     .351

Let us then establish what this means in the standings.

In his brilliant piece on the DH and Win Curve, R.J. Anderson rightly noted how we are presently an approximately 87-win team. In order to push ourselves into the playoff zone (90+ wins), then the Rays must employ the DH opening effectively:

If we use [1.5 wins above replacement] as our tentative estimate for the Zombie DH to be named later, then the Rays move up to roughly 89 wins and by extension raise their empirical playoff odds ever close to the sweet spot of 90-plus wins.

At the given plate appearances and always optimistic Bill James projections, these two could easily add 1.5, if not closer to 3, wins to the 2011 Rays. However, let's play Devil's Advocate, starring Keanu Reeves.

Let's say Giambi sucks against righties to the tune of league average (.330 wOBA) and hits lefties well (.360 wOBA). As a result, he ends up facing more lefties and gets fewer total PAs. Let's say the DH spot gets 650 PAs in 2011 and 25% go to Giambi vs lefties and 10% vs righties. End result: 228 PAs and .351 wOBA (ironically the same wOBA as Bill's projection).

If we put that into a simple wins above replacement (WAR) calculator, we get around 0.5 wins (worth close to $2M).

Now, let's assume Branyan fills the remainder of those PAs (422) and hits to Bill's projections (the Fangraphs fans' expectation is .342 wOBA, which is way below his career vs righties .362, so let's take the higher projection).

We then get about about 0.9 WAR from Branyan (worth $3.5M).

Ultimately, this second-worst case scenarios provides the bare 1.5 wins R.J. suggests we need (The worst case scenarios includes debilitating injuries and Ragnarök). In the best case scenario (Branyan hits his career average vs righties and Giambi hits well against righties), then Giambi can end up adding 1.5 WAR on his own (displacing Dan Johnson at first base somewhat).

It's a crazy plan, and I'm not wholly sold myself, but what say ye? Is the 40 year-old mustacher worth it?

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