• Usually under the national radar, Brian Giles has nevertheless spent the majority of his major-league career putting up outstanding numbers. However, the San Diego Padres right fielder had a rough 2006, at least by his standards. His .263 batting average was his lowest since he was in A-ball in 1992. His 14 home runs were his fewest since 1993, when he was playing in Double-A. His slugging only .397 in 2006 was a mark 128 points below his career average.

    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.”

  • Batting average is an overrated stat, but Twins catcher Joe Mauer winning last year’s American League batting title with a .347 mark was intriguing on two fronts. For one, he was the first catcher ever to lead the AL in hitting. Secondly, he was only 23, and just 15 players have won batting titles by that age since World War II.

    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.”

  • Making out a batting order on a daily basis figures to provide a challenge for Arizona manager Bob Melvin this season, as the Diamondbacks do not have a true leadoff man or cleanup hitter. “I think you are seeing a lot of teams now going for what they think could be the best potential lineup that day-matchups, left-right,” Melvin said. “You get a right-hander on the mound who is getting right-handers out at .200 or below, you are going to have some lefties in there. It’s not just us. I think a lot of teams are looking at that right now.” Melvin used 112 different lineups last season, and was the major-league manager most likely to follow platoon percentages with his hitters.

    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.

  • The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have so much faith in rookie right fielder Delmon Young that they are thinking of hitting him third in the batting order and moving left fielder Carl Crawford up a notch to the second slot. “We’ll see if we can utilize Carl as a table-setter for Delmon,” Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I do believe that Delmon has a knack for RBI. Not that Carl doesn’t, but I just think Delmon is one of those guys that can be a real high-end RBI (threat) because of his ability to use the whole field. He can get singles. He fights off pitches that fall in. I just think this young man is going to develop a real high-end RBI mentality. So for now and in the future, I think it’s something we need to look at.”

    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.

  • The direction of his home runs in 2006 shows just how pull-happy New York Yankees designated hitter Jason Giambi has become. A total of 31 of his 37 homers went to right field, and the other six went to center. Not surprisingly, Giambi is working this spring training on hitting the ball to all fields again.

    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:

    • Philadelphia continues to shop veteran right-hander Jon Lieber, but it seems doubtful Toronto would give up right fielder Alex Rios for him. The chance of the Phillies dealing center fielder Aaron Rowand to San Diego or the Chicago White Sox for some much-needed relief pitching does not look promising if the Phillies can’t land an outfielder for Lieber.
    • Minnesota is working on long-term contract extensions for left-hander Johan Santana, closer Joe Nathan, and first baseman Justin Morneau. Look for the Twins to get deals done with at least two of the three before the end of spring training.
    • The New York Yankees are saying publicly that they are looking for a comeback season from Carl Pavano, but word is they would gladly trade the troubled right-hander and pay much of the $24 million left on the final two years of his contract. That feeling only increased this past week when Pavano was sued for his part in an automobile accident last August in Florida. Colorado, St. Louis, and Seattle continue to be mentioned as the most likely landing spots.
    • When Roger Clemens stopped by Tampa to watch his good buddy Andy Pettitte pitch for the Yankees this past week, it just encouraged thinking that The Rocket will be back in pinstripes come June. The potential hang-up to the deal will be if the Yankees do not allow Clemens to skip road series in which he is not scheduled to pitch, the way the Houston Astros did the past two seasons.
    • Infuriated that center fielder Gary Matthews Jr.‘s name has been linked to reports that he purchased human growth hormone, the Angels have explored the possibility of voiding the five-year, $50 million contract he signed as a free agent over the winter. However, it is doubtful the Angels could legally pull off that maneuver unless Matthews is convicted, which is a longshot since drug enforcement agents are more interested in sending the drug suppliers to prison than the users.

    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.