Back in the day, before he wrote mostly about sandwiches and the destruction of sports video games, Jon Bois of SB Nation used to often ask the following question: "Which baseball player was the most [something] of [some period of time]?" This was/is my jam. Make up a criteria, and find the character that fits that criteria the best.
"Who was the most Mets player of all time?" (Ed Kranepool, duh.)
"Who was the most 1994 player of all time?" (Butch Henry, duh.)
"Who was the most 2000's player of all time?"
That last one? That's Jason Giambi. Giambi officially retired yesterday, at the ripe old age of 44. He had a 20-year career, something we hardly ever see in baseball. Now he's ostensibly off to join a coaching staff where he'll live out the rest of his ballplaying days dispensing wisdom and trying to foster the same skill with the bat he demonstrated throughout his years on the diamond.
To be sure, Giambi is definitely the player who most represents the 00's in my head. When I think about the two biggest stories of the previous decade in baseball, I think about the PED scandals and the rise of sabermetrics, and Giambi had a spectacular relationship with both.
Most likely, people who followed baseball remember Giambi most strongly for his connection to BALCO, and to the ever-present steroid and PED investigations during the mid- and late-aughts. Giambi, after being named in an investigation into Greg Anderson, copped to using steroids and HGH, apologizing a couple times for his actions. A tremendously powerful slugger, Giambi was the perfect picture of a chemical-enhanced slugger in the eyes of fans and the media.
Perhaps more importantly -- at least to me -- there'd be no Moneyball without Jason Giambi, I suppose. It was Giambi's exit from Oakland on the heels of a second top-two finish in MVP voting that inspired Billy Beane and his team to try to re-create Giambi in aggregate, due to an inability to re-sign the slugger with Oakland's meager budget. Giambi wasn't exactly the best of example of a player who sabermetrics valued differently than the general consensus -- everyone thought Giambi was great -- but without Giambi leaving the Athletics, there might not have been such a stark contrast for
Billy Beane Michael Lewis to showcase in his book.
Modern statistics do a pretty great job of telling the story of Jason Giambi's career. You can check them out over at FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference or Baseball Prospectus, but here are a few of my favorite bits from Giambi's career:
48.9 career FanGraphs WAR / 50.8 Baseball-Reference WAR / 51.1 career WARP
Giambi had a great career, no doubt. It's probably not the type of career to earn him serious consideration for the Hall of Fame (even without PED considerations), but Giambi was undoubtedly a true great, as evidenced both by his longevity and his total wins above replacement. Giambi probably fits in in the top 300 or so ballplayers of all time, thanks to a supremely effective peak and overall incredible offensive ability.
(Also, for his career, Giambi was a magnificent defensive liability. It's not a stretch to say he lost nearly 20 wins off of his lifetime WAR totals due to terrible, bad, no-good defense and the positional adjustment that goes with playing first base and DH for most of his career.)
Giambi also got into about 70 games in his career at third base, which is awesome.
42.7 rWAR7 (Peak rWAR)
That's the 13th-best peak rWAR among historical first basemen -- and that's no small feat considering the greats who've manned the three over their careers. His seven-year peak was epic, better than guys like Jim Thome, Keith Hernandez, Eddie Murray, Mark McGwire, and Harmon Killebrew.
193 wRC+ in 2001
This is not the year Jason Giambi won the MVP award, but it certainly could have been. (Sorry, Ichiro.) Jason's overall offensive production was approximately 93% better than league average, which is astronomically good. That's better than Miguel Cabrera's out-of-sight 2013, better than Sammy Sosa's 64 homer barrage that same year, and better than any offensive season Albert Pujols, Willie Mays, or Hank Aaron ever put together. There hasn't been a better offensive season since Giambi's 2001 -- except for the ones put up by Barry Bonds between 2001-2004.
Between Giambi's unreal 2001 and his almost-as-good 2000 (183 wRC+), he possesses two of the 50 highest recorded wRC+ scores in baseball history -- for qualified hitters, that is.
15.3% Walk Rate (career)
If walking is cool, then he was basically Miles Davis. Giambi walked 15.3%, or about once every seven plate appearances. If you watched two Jason Giambi games, you probably saw him walk at least once. That led him to a career OBP of .399 -- just a hair under the magic .400 number. Every game was a two-for-five game for Giambi in terms of getting on base, and that made him hella valuable even when he wasn't mashing monster home runs.
Joey Votto doesn't even walk that much, and Votto loves walking like I love Junior Mints.
440 Home Runs (career)
I know, I know. 500 is the magic number. But Giambi struck more dingers than all but 40 players in MLB history. He's 41st all-time in home runs. As much as I respected Giambi the hitter, and appreciated his longevity and continued ability to hit for power, I never thought he would be that high up the career leaderboard.
20 Stolen Bases (career)
... one thing that's kind of funny, though. Two of those SBs came in 2010 -- his 15th big league season. This tied his career high for thefts in a season.
Giambi was a character, a cheater, an example and a tremendous hitter. He's moving on to the post-playing days of his career, but he was a fascinating, exceptional ballplayer when he was on the field. He's a rarity, the player whose contributions on the field were as gripping as the narratives that surrounded him off the field.
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Bryan Grosnick is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @bgrosnick.