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June 10, 2002
The Daily Prospectus
About three weeks ago, the A's made the weirdest trade of the year, swapping left fielder and OBP guy Jeremy Giambi to the Phillies for fringe major leaguer John Mabry. There seemed to be little justification for the trade; the stated reasons—defense, Mabry's clubhouse presence, the desire to clear at-bats for Adam Piatt—were weak, and the gap in talent between the two players is wide.
Since the trade, the A's are 13-5, and following a sweep of the Astros this weekend they're just six games behind the Mariners in the AL West. Admittedly, this run came against a very weak schedule—11 games against the Orioles and Devil Rays—but at the 62-game mark, the Athletics are a hell of a lot closer to a playoff spot than they were at the same point one year ago.
Since the trade, the A's have outscored their opponents 101-80. Let's break the A's down, pre- and post-trade:
The A's traded their .390 OBP leadoff hitter and still managed to improve their offense, while reducing the number of runs they're allowing as well, implying that there was a defensive benefit to getting Giambi out of their outfield.
Let's start with the offense. Remember those "weak reasons" for the trade? Well, one of them wasn't, and I just missed it. Adam Piatt was considered an excellent prospect just two years ago, but a nasty bout with meningitis caused him to miss a good chunk of 2001, and hit poorly—. 211/.284/.300—when he did play. Healthy again, he has been the largest beneficiary of the Giambi deal. He's hitting .311/.400/.590 since the swap, playing every day in left field.
Piatt's bat has helped compensate for the complete lack of production the A's have gotten from their leadoff hitters in Giambi's absence. Art Howe has mostly gone with his second baseman as his leadoff man, and Esteban German, Randy Velarde, and Mark Ellis have combined for a .313 OBP and a .238 slugging average in that role.
So the A's have been able to replace Giambi's bat, at least so far. How about the team defense? Has Giambi's absence been a factor in the reduction in run scoring? It's a hard thing to determine; Piatt, who has gotten most of the playing time, looks like a better outfielder than Giambi, and is one by reputation, but his defensive statistics—here's your salt—aren't any better:
Pct. RF ZR Adam Piatt 1.000 1.53 .800 Jeremy Giambi .984 1.73 .805
Frankly, the A's defensive problems have more to do with having a left fielder--Terrence Long--in center field than with who's flanking him. And as long as I'm on the subject, why is a team so concerned about defense allowing a first baseman who could be a Gold Glove winner—and who wasn't nearly the worst hitter on the team—to languish in Triple-A? Carlos Pena is hitting .247/.341/.521 for Sacramento; it's time to get him back up to Oakland.
The A's improvement in run prevention as a team looks to have more to do with the pitching staff, which has allowed just three home runs in June, and just 15 in 165 innings since the trade—a 28% reduction in their HR-allowed rate since before the deal—than the defense. The A's remain near the bottom of the AL in Defensive Efficiency (through Thursday), so crediting their improvement to defense, as opposed to, say, Aaron Harang, is a tough case to make.
It's dangerous to draw too many conclusions. As mentioned, the A's have played an easy schedule, and that's going to change quickly, with games against the Mariners, Giants, and Reds coming up. I am certain that I underestimated Adam Piatt in analyzing the swap, dismissing him far too easily. On the other hand, there's no obvious reason the A's couldn't have jettisonedScott Hatteberg and kept Giambi—who is hitting .333/.565/.733 since the deal—as their DH, and acquiring John Mabry is no better an idea today than it was then.
It's still a strange deal, but the play of Adam Piatt has been one significant on-field positive for a team that's not quite as dead as it looked.