Growing up in Covina, Calif., the brothers Giambi learned to hit in a backyard batting cage, where on Sunday afternoons their father, John, preached the gospel of strike-zone discipline using a chart from Ted Williams's The Science of Hitting. The chart subdivided the strike zone into 77 pitch locations and noted Williams's corresponding batting average when swinging at a pitch in each of those areas. John lectured his boys on waiting for pitches in the "happy zone"—down the middle, between the belt and letters—where Williams typically had the most success. Says Jeremy Giambi, three years younger than his Bash Brother, Jason, "That's why we're such patient hitters."
It's fitting that a Williams disciple has finally found his muse in Boston. Giambi's exceptional choosiness (he saw a major-league-high 4.52 pitches per plate appearance last season with the A's and the Phillies) and .919 OPS (on-base plus slugging) made him a stathead's darling. New general manager Theo Epstein, who treasures players who get on base, made Giambi one of his first pickups. Along with new acquisitions Kevin Millar (3.99 pitches per plate appearance, .875 OPS) and David Ortiz (4.13, .839), first-baseman-DH-outfielder Giambi will fill one of the utility roles that figure to be a well-spring of run production. "The common characteristic of the position players we acquired was, I hope, that they're undervalued," says Epstein, who will pay that trio $5.25 million combined in 2003. "They're guys who for different reasons weren't appreciated for the hitters they are."
Giambi was underappreciated by two organizations last season: He was shipped out of Oakland in a clubhouse purge following the team's poor start; then in Philadelphia, he languished behind Travis Lee at first base because of his suspect defense. In December, while taking a golf lesson with instructor Butch Harmon in Las Vegas, Giambi learned that he had been traded to Boston and immediately started celebrating. "When the Phils signed Jim Thome, I knew my time in Philadelphia was done," he says.
After Red Sox first basemen hit a league-worst .237 with 13 homers last season, Epstein stressed offensive punch over slick glovework. What the infield replacements lack in defensive grace, they make up for in versatility. Millar, for instance, brought four position gloves (first base, third base, leftfield, rightfield) to camp. Thus, filling out the lineup card has become a high-maintenance job for manager Grady Little. Against a tough lefthander, Millar might start instead of regular rightfielder Trot Nixon; behind sinkerballer Derek Lowe, utilitymen Bill Mueller and Damian Jackson may draw infield assignments. Says Epstein, "We wanted to give Grady different ways to attack an opposing pitcher and adjust to game situations."
Even Shea Hillenbrand, a starter at third base in last year's All-Star Game, is being asked to play a little first base. After walking just 25 times in 676 plate appearances, Hillenbrand's name was kicked around in trade rumors all winter. When the market dried up, he was urged to tame his free-swinging ways. Epstein wants everyone in the lineup focused on getting aboard and giving the Boston pitchers a lead to work with.
The top of the rotation, Lowe and Pedro Martinez, is as good as anybody's in the AL, but the Red Sox are looking for development on the back end, particularly in Casey Fossum at the No. 5 spot. Equipped with a low-90s fastball and a sweeping curve, Fossum, 25, spent the spring refining a downward-action changeup that he grips with his index and middle fingers spread, as he would a splitter. But there are questions about how the slight 6-foot, 160-pound Fossum will hold up in the rotation for a full season.
Provided its closer-by-committee experiment (SI, March 17) doesn't blow up, Boston is a deep and well-rounded club. "By no means are we going in thinking we're perfect," Little says, "but I don't have any doubts we'll drive in more runs than we let in, no matter who's out there."