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September 28, 2006

Player Profile

Marcus Giles

by Marc Normandin

Several quality seasons have established him as one of the top players at his position, but Marcus Giles has struggled at the plate in 2006, performing much like a league-average player at only age 28. His plate patience has remained, but his power has suffered considerably, leaving a gaping hole in his production. The Braves should be pleased they received as much as they have out of Giles in his career, though.

Marcus Giles was drafted in the 53rd round of the 1996 free agent draft--selection number 1511 overall--by the Atlanta Braves. Offhand, I don't know what the average return rate is for picks that late in the draft, but you'd have to think that Giles has surpassed that in his six-year career. He was initially sent to Danville in the Appalachian Rookie League for his pro debut, and performed very well there as a 19-year-old: .348/.435/.556 with walks in 13.4 percent of all plate appearances, and an Isolated Power over .200.

The Braves then placed Giles in A-ball for the next two seasons, with markedly different results. He spent 1998 at Macon in the Sally League, and 1999 playing for Myrtle Beach in the High-A Carolina League:

                   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG   SecA   XBH%   ISO  2B+3B    BB%    K%
Macon (A)         505  .329  .425  .636   .489    47%  .307     41  14.4% 17.5%
Myrtle Beach (A+) 497  .326  .392  .513   .302    37%  .187     47   9.8% 16.2%

There was a drop in his patience at the plate, as the walks fell to roughly ten percent of all PAs, but the most significant drop in production was in his home run power. Giles cranked 37 homers in 1998, and only 13 in his follow-up campaign. Myrtle Beach is a notorious pitcher's park, and was largely responsible for bringing him back down to earth, and he did still manage 60 extra-base hits overall. At this point though, the Braves had to love seeing their 53rd rounder effortlessly pasting extra-base hits and posting quality Secondary Averages at every level. Also of note, Giles led the Sally League in walks (85) and the Carolina League in hits (162), while winning the former's MVP award.

Baseball Prospectus 2000 had a great deal of faith in Giles' performances, saying that his numbers "were nearly identical in value" to the much more heralded Rafael Furcal's. Baseball America listed Giles as the #2 prospect in the Braves organization, and his performance as a 22-year-old at Double-A Greenville did nothing to change that perception--in 458 at-bats, Gilly hit .290/.388/.472, walking in 13.5 percent of all plate appearances, and only striking out in 13.3, a career low.

Baseball Prospectus 2001 again celebrated Giles' talent:

As quickly as the Braves moved Furcal though the system, you'd think they'd show that same aggressiveness with Marcus Giles. Giles's secondary skills are great for a middle infielder, and while he doesn't look like he'd be a great fielder, he actually plays the position well…

Baseball America listed Giles as the #3 prospect in the organization heading into the 2001 season, in what would prove to be his last as a minor league prospect. He would start with a promotion to Triple-A Richmond, but would finish the year with the major league club, even making the playoff roster.

                   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG   SecA   XBH%   ISO  2B+3B    BB%    K%
Richmond (AAA)    252  .333  .387  .488   .274    31%  .155     20   7.9% 17.2%
Atlanta (MLB)     244  .262  .338  .430   .270    33%  .168     12  10.3% 13.6%

All things considered, the debut with Atlanta was more impressive than the stint with Richmond. His Triple-A half-season was very average-driven, and his strikeouts rose from the previous season at the same time that his walk rate dropped. While in Atlanta, though, his walk and strikeout percentages recovered, and he maintained his Secondary Average and Isolated Power figures from the minors.

Baseball Prospectus 2002 took a moment to pat itself on the back--appropriately, I might add, since they backed him from the start of his prospectdom:

As good as Furcal might grow up to be, Giles is a better bet to be an offensive star at his position for the next few years. To combat concerns that Giles wasn't going to be an adequate second baseman, the Braves had Glenn Hubbard, one of the great unheralded glove men at second base, work with him in 1998. As a result, Giles has gone from genuinely awful to adequate, with the chance to get better. His power and ability to drive the ball to all fields should make him an excellent addition to the heart of the order. For the people who have been waiting since we started touting him four years ago, it's all good from here on out.

With the glove work fixed somewhat, and the bat certainly the least of Giles' concerns, it looked as if the Braves were going to have themselves one of the top middle infields in the game. Of course, Giles then started out hitting slowly (.237/.320/.388), and was placed on the disabled list on May 29 with a severely sprained right ankle. Upon his reactivation, Giles did not see a great deal of action, and finished up at a disappointing .230/.315/.399, although he still managed to walk in over ten percent of all plate appearances.

Giles had to deal with tragedy in the 2002 season, as he lost a child to premature birth. It goes without saying that this would affect one's performance in almost any work setting, so analysis of his 2002 season is fairly pointless in a way, especially considering its nature as an outlier. What is fairly important is the fact that the Braves basically ignored him down the stretch in favor of Mark DeRosa, and that they tried Giles out at third base on a few occasions. Giles had rapidly risen from late round pick to top prospect, only to seemingly fall back into obscurity almost as quickly.

Baseball Prospectus 2003 was wary: "There's something going on here, and until it comes to light, we can't endorse him." This was in regards to the Braves sudden refusal to use Giles, and their attempts to deal him at the winter meetings. PECOTA forecasted a .259/.337/.409 line, pretty reasonable considering his poor 2002 performance, but certainly below what he had shown himself capable of in the past. Giles ended up hitting .316/.390/.526 in his first full season in the bigs, and even tossed in 15 Fielding Runs Above Average for good measure. Giles was worth 10.1 Wins Above Replacement Level in 2003, which seems like a great deal for the guy selected after 1510 other players in the free agent draft. He may have been worth even more than that though, as John Dewan's Fielding Bible ranked Giles as the top second defensive second baseman in the majors for the 2003 season. His walk rate was roughly ten percent, and the power was higher than it had been since his 1998 campaign in A-ball.

After that sort of breakout, for 2004 PECOTA projected only a .280/.358/.457 line, which Baseball Prospectus 2004 explained: "The pessimistic PECOTA reflects the fact that second basemen tend to peak early, but Giles doesn't have the skill set of a typical second basemen. He should be one of the league's better players once again in 2004."

Giles was indeed one of the league's better players, but an injury from a collision with teammate Andruw Jones shortened his season. Still, he was worth over 5 WARP-1 in only 102 games, even if his walk rate dropped to almost 8 percent, and his power was down a bit. He did manage 22 doubles and a career-high 17 stolen bases--even more importantly, an 81 percent success rate--so all was not lost. The Fielding Bible ranked Giles as the seventh best defensive second basemen in the majors, even with the diminished playing time. The 2003-2004 seasons were a massive improvement from the days where his fielding was supposedly going to keep him out of the majors.

For the 2005 season, Baseball Prospectus 2005 felt that his broken clavicle had hurt his power somewhat, and that he would rebound, going so far as to say, "Don't be stunned if he wins an MVP award within the next three years." However, PECOTA forecasted a very non-MVP like .287/.363/.457 for Giles with plus defense, and that proved to be the better immediate expectation, as he gave the Braves a .291/.365/.461 line with above-average defensive play once again.

Heading into the 2006 season, there was no reason to believe that Giles would falter. PECOTA expected another steady offensive season from him, forecasting a .287/.366/.455 season line, and much the same up through 2010. However, he's struggled somewhat this season, although a lot of the problems were in the first half. Currently, his season line is .266/.347/.395, with walks in ten percent of his plate appearances, and roughly the same home run power displayed in his career outside of 2003. Giles has hit .300/.375/.446 in 240 at-bats since July 1, but he has struggled on the road all season long.

Taking a look at Giles batted-ball data, we see that the only significant change is in his Batting Average on Balls in Play:

Year        P/PA        FB%        LINERD%        GB%        POPUP%       HR/F        BA/BIP
2004        3.6        35.5%        22.0%        42.5%        N/A         7.3%        .365
2005        3.7        36.5%        16.1%        41.9%        5.5%        8.6%        .337
2006        3.9        32.1%        18.7%        44.5%        4.7%        7.0%        .311

His flyball and pop-up rates dropped a little bit, with that loss seemingly going into his line drives and groundballs. Using that, it's somewhat safe to say that a few balls that landed for doubles in the gaps last year--or home runs, as his HR/F has dropped a little bit as well--have turned into line outs, and he has hit a few more grounders than is normal for him, most likely leading to even more outs. The drop in BABIP is not massive, it's down .026, but if you factor that back into his season line, it would look like .292/.373/.421, and that slugging percentage assumes all of the new hits were singles. Is it a case of bad luck, the ball just happening to land where fielders are? From the data above, that's the feeling I get.

If the Braves do indeed move Giles this winter, as has been whispered, then some new team might have themselves a second baseman who is still within his peak productivity, and may even get him at bargain-basement pricing, considering his "off" year. Considering this winter's weak free agent class, adding a player of Giles' caliber would be a serious upgrade in a market that doesn't offer very many of those.

Marc Normandin is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Marc by clicking here or click here to see Marc's other articles. You can find some of Marc's other work here.

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