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March 11, 2007
Every Given Sunday
In all, he set or equaled career-lows in runs (87), homers, RBI (83), total bases (240), on base percentage (.374), slugging percentage, and batting average. That is why new Padres manager Bud Black has toyed with taking Giles out of the middle of the lineup and making him a leadoff hitter.
Giles was particularly frustrated. "I worked my butt off to put up the numbers I put up," Giles said. "It was definitely frustrating. Man, I worked a little too hard to do that. I never got hot. Not once, other than maybe for a day or two. But I never got hot. Never had a year like that one."
Giles admits he has been beaten down by playing his home games at Petco Park, which opened in 2004, just months after the Padres acquired him from the Pittsburgh Pirates in an August, 2003 trade. He claims his new home has caused him to alter his swing. "When you hit a ball that used to go for a home run or extra bases, and instead it goes for an out, it's only natural to try harder," Giles said. "Then your swing gets longer. All that is going to do is make it worse for you. You need to just try to get hits."
Giles' three-year splits from 2004-06 do not indicate that his home park is totally the root of his declining numbers. In that time, he is hitting .289/.395/.485 at home and .299/.418/.493 on the road. Now 36, Giles admits his days of hitting 39 homers and slugging .614-as he did for the Pirates in 1999-are over. Still, he believes he has enough power to better his stats from 2006. "You're not going to hit a ton of home runs at our park; that's a given," Giles said. "But I think I have at least 20-25 home runs, that ability for our park."
Mauer also had other good numbers to go with his high batting average, notably a .429 on base percentage and a .507 slugging percentage. Two Hall of Famers who won plenty of batting titles, Tony Gwynn and Rod Carew, believe Mauer should be productive for many seasons to come.
"His balance at the plate is really good," Gwynn said. "As a coach, I talk to my guys all the time about being balanced. You get into a balanced position, you can hit anything anywhere. He's a tall guy to begin with, but you can see he's got his legs under him. The other thing is his ability to use the whole field-that really is a thing of beauty. You can take a fastball in and pull it down the right-field line, and you can take that same fastball away and line it down the left-field line. To me, that's the essence of hitting."
Carew compares Mauer to Los Angeles Angels left fielder Garret Anderson, who hit .321 as a rookie in 1995 and has compiled career averages of .297/.327/.470. Mauer, though, figures to have a better OBP. "He's the same size as Garret, and the thing to me is they both learned how to hit the ball hard first," Carew said. "Garret went from there to driving the ball, and that's what Joe's going to do. The kid can hit. I mean, he can hit. And what I really like about him is he's very quiet at the plate."
Of the Diamondbacks' four most likely leadoff hitters, none have outstanding career on base percentages: outfielder Jeff DaVanon (.352), center fielder Chris Young (.358 in the minors), second baseman Orlando Hudson (.335), and left fielder Eric Byrnes (.322). First baseman Conor Jackson is the likely cleanup man, and his slugging percentage is just .421 in two major-league seasons.
Time will tell if Maddon is right, but he isn't letting Young hitting just 4-for-25 (.160) with runners in scoring position during the 30 games he played with the Devil Rays late last season alter his thinking. Furthermore, he walked just once in 131 plate appearances, and amazingly swung at 68.7 of the pitches he saw. However, that brief trial by fire aside, Young did hit .306 with RISP in 108 at-bats for Triple-A Durham in 2006, though his International League season was shortened by a 50-game suspension for throwing a bat at an umpire.
Giambi cites three reasons for why he has been pulling the ball so much: Yankee Stadium's short right field; injuries that have kept him from leaning on his back (left) knee in his batting stance; and pressing to hit more home runs last season when Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was struggling.
New Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long says Giambi has to let pitches get deeper into the strike zone if he is to improve on last season's .253 batting average, which he offset by having a .413 on base percentage and a .558 slugging percentage. "Now that my knees feel good, it's a lot easier to do that," Giambi said. "Before, I didn't have the ability to do it. I played through injuries, but it created a lot of bad habits, too."
From the rumor mill:
John Perrotto is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and covers Major League Baseball for the Beaver County Times. You can reach John by clicking here.