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March 21, 2010

Player Profile

Brian Giles

by Marc Normandin

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It's been a rough month for childhood favorites of mine, as not only Nomar Garciaparra retired, but Brian Giles, easily the player I was most irrationally obsessed with during the early part of the decade, also called it a career. How many of you have a cat named Brian Giles at your parents' house? Didn't think so. Giles had a very underrated career, one that fell from the spotlight it almost reached upon being traded to San Diego and the park that crushes hitters' dreams. He won't have the counting stats for a Hall of Fame career, but Giles had quite the career.

Brian Stephen Giles was drafted out of high school in El Cajon, California, by the Cleveland Indians in 1989. The 17th-round pick spent a considerable amount of time in the minors, starting at Burlington in the Rookie League at age 18, and not showing a whole lot from a statistical point of view until his first full stint at Double-A in 1993. That's not to say he was bad in the minors. He didn't show much power in low minors, but did give off signs that he was a patient hitter. During the '93 season at Canton-Akron, Giles hit .327/.409/.452, still not a lot of power, but an otherwise good-looking season for a 22-year-old. His Isolated Power numbers would creep up with a promotion to Triple-A, where he would be stuck for three years despite promising performances. In 1994, Giles hit .313/.390.479; in '95, he had a 310/.395/.501 line; he then hit .314/.395/.594 in 1996. That last burst of power was enough to convince the Indians to keep him around at the major-league level after being blocked by such stars as Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, and Manny Ramirez.

It didn't hurt that, once in the majors, Giles had no troubles acclimating himself to the environment: in over 143 plate appearances Giles put together a line of .355/.434/.612 in 1996. He was given a more full-time position in 1997, when the Indians finished first in the American League Central despite an 86-75 record and reached the World Series, only to lose to the Marlins. Giles recorded a .268/.368/.459 showing with a TAv of .284. While he struggled in the ALDS against the Yankees and the ALCS against the Orioles, he hit .500/.750/.750 over eight plate appearances in the World Series.

The 1998 season was largely the same for Giles as he had a .287 TAv by way of a .269/.396/.460 line. Giles appeared in just 112 games, splitting time in left field with Mark Whiten, Geronimo Berroa, Shawon Dunston, and David Justice. The Indians then dealt Giles to thePirates that winter for left-handed reliever Ricardo Rincon, which would create even more chaos for Cleveland in left in 1999, with Wil Cordero, Justice, Jacob Cruz, and Richie Sexson taking turns manning the position along with a smattering of Jolbert Cabrera, Alex Ramirez, Whiten, and Dave Roberts.

You can't fault the Indians completely for moving him. He just came off of an age-27 season where they were pretty sure they knew who he was, given he had two comparable campaigns in a row. They also had a lot of names on the roster they felt could fill the role, and thought that by trading Giles, they could fill a hole elsewhere. That's where Rincon comes in, and also where the trade becomes laughable, not just in retrospect, but even at the time.

Sure, the data used at the time is a lot fuzzier than today's, but Rincon lucked his way into a sub-3.00 ERA (his RA was a splendid 4.29, so much for stranding runners). All told, Rincon accumulated 3.6 WARP in his career with Cleveland, while Giles had 3.4 just the year prior. For the record, Rincon's 1998 WARP was 0.7. Chances are good Cleveland could have pulled a Rincon from their own organization and kept Giles for what came next.

What did come next must have elicited groans from Cleveland fans, because Giles erupted. He hit .315/.418/.614 in his first season with the Pirates. Cleveland still managed to get great production out of left (.294/.377/.502) but Rincon posted an ERA (and RA) of 4.43 while throwing just 44 2/3 innings. He also threw two-thirds of an inning against Boston in the ALDS that year, a five-game series the Red Sox came back to win, facing five batters while giving up three runs in Game Three thanks to a walk and a homer.

Giles was a monster with the Bucs, hitting .309/.426/.604 from 1999-2002. He had 149 homers, 144 doubles, and struck out just 290 times against 434 walks. He had put himself in the same breath with many Pirates' great as his 123 RBI in 2000 were eight shy of Paul Waner's club record, and his 74 homers in two seasons were the most since Willie Stargell hit 77 in 1972 and 1973. His 114 walks in 2000 were the most since Barry Bonds had 127 in his final year with the club in 1992. He was the third player in club history with back-to-back 100-run, 100-walk, 100-RBI campaigns, along with Bonds and Ralph Kiner. Unsurprisingly, he was Pirates player of the year all four of those years.

He made the National League All-Star team in 2000 and 2001, somehow missing in his other two full years with the Pirates and never finishing higher than 13th in the MVP vote. Bonds was easily the best player in the league during this stretch, but Giles was right behind him and one other (be it Jeff Kent or Sammy Sosa, or whoever, depending on the season) in stat after stat, and had little recognition for it outside of Pittsburgh.

There were two teams who had an idea of his worth though—the Pirates, of course, and the San Diego Padres. Midway through the 2003 season, with Giles hitting .299/.430/.521, he was dealt to the Padres in exchange for Jason Bay (a player very similar to Giles in many ways statistically), and Oliver Perez, who was a project pitcher with fantastic stuff. Bay would also become an All-Star, and he signed a four-year, $66-million contract with the New York Mets over the winter. Perez would show flashes of brilliance between giving his managers Homer Simpsonesque fits of hair-tearing rage. Perez would also be rewarded by the Mets with a three-year, $36-million contract, though whether he deserved it can be debated.

The Padres, seeing Bay develop slowly, wanted someone who was already a star to help their lineup. Bay broke out immediately with the Pirates. Giles hit well enough with San Diego the rest of the year (.298/.414/.490) but not at the level you would expect given his resume. Things would get worse from there, thanks to Petco Park. From 2004-08, Giles hit a collective .285/.386/.446 as a Padre. That's unimpressive at first glance given Giles time with Pittsburgh, but taking a deeper look, you see that he hit .298/.397/.478 on the road, and .271/.375/.411 at Petco. His TAvs from those years­—which provide an adjusted view of his offensive value, in spite of Petco's best efforts to destroy scoring—.299, .330, .283, .283, and .319. Giles even managed his lone top 10 MVP finish in 2005, despite just 15 homers. He did have a league-leading 119 walks along with 38 doubles and eight triples and a batting average over .300 despite playing his home games in the game's grand canyon.

After a short-lived attempt at catching on with the Dodgers in spring training, Giles officially announced his retirement earlier this month. This is sad to me for a few reasons, chiefly that my favorite player is no longer in the league. Second is the legacy that many will remember Giles by, as he has had legal battles with a former girlfriend, as he was charged with beating her while she was pregnant. While the legal process is still playing out, it's disconcerting that this is something he could be remembered for, rather than an excellent career. No one should ever ask professional athletes to be role models, but it's much tougher to care for a guy whose job it is to hit a ball a really long way when things like this happen. I'm very vocal about how these kinds of accusations are swept under the rug immediately—go ahead and hit your wife, Mr. Sports Figure, just don't take any HGH while you're doing it—so I wanted to make sure, before anyone mentions it in the comments, that I make it clear that this is something that bothers me.

To get back to baseball, Giles had an excellent career with the Pirates and even the Padres, and it's a shame it had to end as soon as it did. If he had been able to produce for a few more years, he would have had enough ammo to at least get us stat geeks riled up about his Hall of Fame chances, at least before he failed to gain five percent of the vote and fell off the ballot after one year. Sadly, knee problems brought his career to an end, a career that wound up being very good but not quite great.

7 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

gluckschmerz

http://mlb.fanhouse.com/2008/12/17/video-shows-alleged-abuse-by-brian-giles/

Mar 21, 2010 10:34 AM
rating: -2
 
SidsGraphs

He maded 80 million dollars in his career and didn't play in a meaningful game in over a decade. I believe even rejecting several last season trades to potential playoff teams. I am guessing he didn't reject the trades because of his perfect family life....seeing the recent stories.
I am very surprised at the article. He (and his brother) seem to be perfect candidates for being for what is wrong with baseball the last 10 or so years.....

Mar 21, 2010 17:05 PM
rating: -1
 
dom

was bricat giles neutured

Mar 21, 2010 20:47 PM
rating: -3
 
nixgreg

My favorite player, Frank Thomas, just officially retired as well, though he didn't actually play last year. I suspect we have similar feelings about our respective favorite players - that they were underappreciated and the general public doesn't recognize many of the traits that contributed to their greatness (Jose Canseco made more All Star teams than Frank!)... but it's been nice to look back on their careers and know there are others feeling a bit wistful. I'll miss watching Frank a lot, and though I never saw much of Giles, I appreciated his great play on some terrible Pirates teams. It really is too bad they stalled out at the end as their bodies gave way, rather than going out on their own terms.

Mar 21, 2010 21:39 PM
rating: 1
 
jayman4

As a Pads fan, Giles was solid. The Padres probably get two more playoff appearances out of their 2004-07 run of respectability if they kept Bay and Perez, but it was logical trade by Towers and Giles hit well, and played surprisingly good D.

I held a grudge against Arizona because Elmer Dessens broke Bay's wrist on Bay's third day up with Padres in 2003. In two games his line was 250/450/750. Yes, small sample, except he proceeded to hit 291/423/506 that season in Pitt after the trade and 282/358/550 the next. So, if Dessens does not hit Bay and he produces like he does, the trade never happens, the Padres get better and cheaper production out of Bay (with Perez's monster year in 2004 thrown in) so they win the West in 2004 and get one more win in 2007, thus two extra post seasons. Or so my grudge tells me.

Mar 21, 2010 23:18 PM
rating: 1
 
cdamon

I don't think the Pirates ever did appreciate him. Pittsburgh fans and media tend to undervalue walks and over value flashiness, even more than the national media does. He got beat up regularly in the local press as being too passive or even lazy, taking walks when he should have been hacking.

That said, the best two trades the Pirates have made in recent decades both involved Giles.

Mar 22, 2010 08:40 AM
rating: 0
 
outdoorminer

I felt a million years old when I read that sentence about Giles and Garciaparra being childhood favorites of yours. I'm 42, so I was a grown-ass man when these guys started their major league careers. The mental disconnect for me isn't your fault - it's just that when I read your writing, I think of you as a peer, and it's easy for me to forget that so many capable folks who write about the game are so young. Someday I'll figure out that I'm not 27 any more.

Mar 22, 2010 14:59 PM
rating: 1
 
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