Kirk Gibson is an old school guy. His old school ways worked wonders in 2011, leading his ragtag bunch of Desert Snakes to the playoffs. While the contributions of Justin Upton greatly contributed to this dream season, we can safely assume it takes a village to raise an underdog, but without a mayor that village will degrade into anarchy. (It’s an old Scottish mysticism.)
The 2012 Diamondbacks are kind of bad. Not entirely coincidentally, Justin Upton is kind of bad in 2012, too. He isn’t hitting for power and now trade rumours swirl around him. For the power to all but disappear from a 23-year old player is slightly concerning for most people, but Kirk Gibson? He isn’t worried. He knows Justin Upton can contribute in other ways, just like Alfredo Griffin used to do. Wait, what?
Yes, Kirk Gibson drew parallels between one of the worst regular players of the last 40 years and a 25-year power hitting outfielder. How might one go about such a mad-libsian comparison, you may ask? Via Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, Professor Gibson shows us the way:
“There are guys who have had down years in pure slugging but they had great contributions,” Gibson said. “Alfredo Griffin in 1988.”
Alfredo Claudino Griffin played shortstop for the 1988 World Series-champion Dodgers. He hit .199.
“Go look at what he did with the bases loaded,” Gibson said. “Incredible. Look what he did with everything else. There are different ways (to win).”
Wow. I know Alfredo Griffin slugged a paltry .319 for his career and just .253 in 1988, so those must be some pretty significant bases loaded numbers. Except that he was 5 for 8 with the bases loaded that year, which is nice but still just five hits in eight at bats. Three triples with two walks and a sacrifice fly is some fine work, no doubt.
Those numbers are great and certainly helped his team win a couple games (in the leverage sense) or just under one game (in the WPA runs-to-wins sense). Does that make up for the rest of his offensive numbers? Does that make up for his .257 wOBA and his general replacement-level play for the year? No. It doesn’t.
That the Dodgers let Griffin take nearly 200 plate appearances hitting either second (141 PA) or leadoff in 1988 suggests they didn’t agree. But, more importantly, what does this have to do with Justin Upton?
It is my deepest hope that Gibson is just taking the piss a little bit here, having some fun at the end of a soul-deadening season of disappointment. But then again, he IS Kirk Gibson. And he did go on, questioning the assembled media “throng” why “the media” think power is so important to winning baseball games. When the reporters offered more power/home runs help you win more games, Gibson rebuked.
“I agree it would make more sense if (you had a higher slugging),” Gibson said, “but that’s not what you evaluate on solely, in my opinion. It tends to – people get judgmental on that and it adds a different dimension to his season and his game and it can maybe be counterproductive.
“I’d like to see him hit 50 and 150 for us, no doubt about it. But that solely wouldn’t determine the outcome of our success. You can look at a lot of different areas, which I do all the time. I know you do as well. There are enough numbers to drive you crazy. It’s not just a numbers game, though.”
It is not just a numbers game when the numbers aren’t those you are comfortable with, I think he means. This school of thought underlines the current schism between pervasive schools of thought in baseball. It is important that Griffin reached safely in those situations, but he did not create these run scoring situations all on his own.
But this is a timeless baseball debate for another day. We really need to pay attention to Kirk Gibson’s broader point: when making borderline insane comparisons, don’t let the constraints of reality limit you.
Rather than comparing a control pitcher with fringy stuff to the best ever control pitcher who lacked overpowering stuff (like Greg Maddux), compare him to a corner infielder. Or a HVAC repair guy. Or the Burj Al Arab. Let you imagination run wild and your instincts guide you. Play the game with your guts, like Gibby.