Brian Giles wasn’t supposed to be this good. A 17th-round selection by the Cleveland Indians all the way back in 1989, Giles was seen as a short, stocky kid without much “projection.” The El Cajon, California native was 5-10 on his tippy toes and had a frame that was already considered maxed out. In his early minor league career, Giles showed plate discipline beyond his years, but not a whole lot of power.
Upon reaching AAA, however, he turned into a hitting machine, getting on base at a .390+ clip and slugging 31 combined homers over the 1994 and 1995 seasons. Despite his keen batting eye (14.9 BB% in the minors), contact ability (13.8 K%) and burgeoning power, Giles never really got the opportunity to establish himself as a full-time player for the Indians. That was in no small part due to the absurd amount of outfield talent that flowed through Cleveland at the time (Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, David Justice). Giles posted a tasty .284/.391/.485 line in 857 AB for Cleveland between 1995 and 1998, but for that he was shown the door. Ten years ago today, Giles was shipped to Pittsburgh in exchange for LOOGY Ricardo Rincon in one of the most lopsided trades of the ’90’s.
Liberated in the ‘Burgh, Giles blossomed into an absolute force. Seeing his first full-time duty in 1999 at the age of 28, Giles posted a stunning .315/.418/.614 line, with 39 home runs. The good times would keep on rolling during his tenure with the Bucs. In fact, one could make an argument that Giles was one of the top 10 most valuable properties in the game during his time in Pittsburgh:
Giles’ WPA/LI, 1999-2003
1999: 6.31 (3rd in MLB)
2000: 6.05 (6th)
2001: 5.56 (12th)
2002: 6.81 (2nd)
2003: 2.95 (29th)
Upon being shipped to San Diego in July of 2003, Giles continued to compile impressive numbers, with a WPA/LI of 3.26 in 2004, 4.75 in 2005, and 1.71 in 2006. After a 0.56 WPA/LI mark in 2007, Giles bounced back to post a 2.52 figure in 2008. That 2008 performance ranked 15th among all outfielders.
While Giles’ power has been pared down by Petco Park’s cavernous dimensions, he retains perhaps the best strike-zone control of any player in the game today. The man with a career .404 OBP walked 13.5% of the time in 2008, and whiffed just 9.3%. Giles’ 17.4 Outside Swing Percentage (O-Swing%) was the 10th-lowest in the game, and by his standards, that was an ultra-aggressive season:
Giles’ O-Swing%, 2005-2008
When Giles does decide to fish at one out of the strike zone, there’s usually a good reason: he can make contact with the pitch. His 81.5 O-Contact% was the 6th-highest among all batters this past season. Interestingly, Giles has significantly increased his ability to put the bat on the ball on his outside swings as he has gotten older:
Giles’ Outside Contact Percentage (O-Contact%), 2005-2008:
When Giles decides to swing (which isn’t very often- his 39.9 Swing% was 13th-lowest in baseball), he almost never misses. His 92.8 Contact% was the best in baseball, and his contact percentage on pitches thrown in the strike zone (Z-Contact%) was second-best in the game at 96.2%.
Brian Giles will turn 38 in January, but he remains one of the most underappreciated talents in the game. He may no longer be the over-the-fence threat of his Pittsburgh days (part park effects, part father time), but Giles is coming off of a plenty useful .306/.398/.456 season, and the Bill James projection system forecasts a .280/.387/.435 line for 2009. If you want a player who knows the strike zone better than the man in blue behind him, then Brian Giles is your guy.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at email@example.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.