Brian Giles, Hall of Fame Class of 2016?

When you think of hitters with an elite combination of plate discipline and power, who comes to mind? Ted Williams? Babe Ruth? Lou Gehrig? How about Brian Giles?

The Cleveland Indians drafted Brian Stephen Giles out of Granite Hills High School (just east of San Diego) in the 17th round of the 1989 draft. It was a good year to be a 17th rounder, as Giles, Greg Zaun and Mark Grudzielanek all went on to lengthy major league careers. Giles spent three years progressing through the low minors, hitting around .300 with little power at each stop.

In mid-1992 the Indians promoted the 21-year-old outfielder to Double-A, where he blossomed the following year. With Canton-Akron of the Eastern League, Giles hit .327/.409/.452, stealing 18 bases in 30 tries. He also showed advanced plate discipline, with 57 walks while striking out only 43 times in 496 plate appearances.

A promotion to Triple-A in 1994 didn’t slow him down. Doubling his career best home run total with 16, Giles hit .313/.390/.479 and seemed to be knocking on the door to the majors when the strike ended early in 1995. Sent back to Triple-A, he reproduced his previous season’s success with a .310/.395/.501 line including 15 home runs in 486 plate appearances.

At the end of the season Giles got his first taste of the big leagues on Sept. 16, 1995. He went 5-for-9, including his first major league home run down the stretch. Despite having nothing left to prove, Giles was sent back to Triple-A in 1996, now 25 years old. This time he gave them power they couldn’t ignore any longer—he posted a .314/.395/.594 line with 20 homers in just 366 plate appearances before he got the call for good, hitting .355/.434/.612 with five homers in 143 plate appearances.

Why was the big-league club so reluctant to promote the versatile outfielder with an already-refined approach at the plate and good power? Here was the Cleveland lineup in 1994 (which changed little through 1996):

Pos   Player              Age
C     Sandy Alomar Jr.     28
1B    Paul Sorrento        28
2B    Carlos Baerga        25
SS    Omar Vizquel         27
3B    Jim Thome            23
LF    Albert Belle         27
CF    Kenny Lofton         27
RF    Manny Ramirez        22
DH    Eddie Murray         38

By my count, six out of nine regulars are either in the Hall of Fame already (Murray), will be there as soon as they’re eligible (Vizquel, Thome, Ramirez), or have legitimate HOF arguments (Belle and Lofton). To make matters worse for Giles, almost everyone was in the prime of their careers.

This was possibly the worst outfield in baseball history to try to crack. Ramirez, a year younger than Giles, flew past him in the Indians system with a .333/.417/.613 line and 31 homers between Double-A and Triple-A in 1993. From 1994 to 1996, Belle averaged .325/.414/.671, including 42 doubles and 45 home runs. His personality was the only thing between him and a few MVP awards.

And Kenny Lofton, a sabermetric darling, posted a .324/.381/.474 line with an average of 11 homers and 63 stolen bases. Additionally, Lofton made three All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves, led the league in stolen bases three times, and even finished fourth in the MVP voting in 1994. Eddie Murray was in the twilight of his career but was still a productive hitter and wasn’t going to be benched for an unproven rookie.

After the 1996 season, Murray and Belle left Cleveland, finally leaving an opening for Giles. The 26-year-old hit .268 with plenty of walks and 17 homers in 451 plate appearances while sharing left field with David Justice and making a handful of starts in center, right and at DH. While the 1997 Indians made it to Game Seven of the World Series, Giles struggled in the postseason despite walking in four of eight World Series plate appearances, finishing with a .222 average.

The next year was almost a repeat of the previous, but with an OBP boost up to .396 and still getting only 430 plate appearances.

About to turn 28 and not getting a full-time shot in the competitive Cleveland lineup, Giles was traded to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates for Ricardo Rincon, straight up. Here’s the 1999 Pirates lineup:

Pos   Player              Age
C     Jason Kendall        25
1B    Kevin Young          30
2B    Warren Morris        25
3B    Ed Sprague           31
SS    Mike Benjamin        33
LF    Al Martin            31
CF    Brian Giles          28
RF    Brant Brown          28

Not quite Murderer’s Row. Finally given a full season of plate appearances, Giles didn’t disappoint. From 1999 through 2002, Giles averaged .309/.426/.604 with 37 home runs and 10 stolen bases. With his small-market team never winning more than 78 games and other hitters shattering home run records, Giles got little recognition. In these four seasons, he made only two All-Star teams and never finished higher than 13th in MVP voting.
In the midst of another solid season in 2003, Giles was traded to his hometown San Diego Padres in late August before the waiver trading deadline. Contrary to the typical rebuilding process, the last-place Padres sacrificed Oliver Perez and a young hitter named Jason Bay to acquire the veteran slugger from Pittsburgh. Moving into a new stadium the following season, the Padres were hoping to capitalize on an opportunity and quickly jump back into contention.

Unfortunately for Giles, the Padres were about to move into the worst hitters’ park in the majors, and one that is particularly hard on left-handed power hitters. While his road numbers indicate that his power hitting days were in the past, PETCO did its part to suppress Giles’ power. According to the Bill James Handbook 2010, PETCO has a three-year left-handed batter homer park factor of 61, meaning lefty HR output was reduced by roughly 40 percent. Here are Giles’ home/road splits since 2004:

Season        Home HR    Road HR
     2004         10         13
     2005          6          9
     2006          6          8
     2007          1         12
     2008          4          8
     2009          1          1
Total             28         51
Pre-2004         104        104
Career           132        155

After hitting just as many homers on the road as at home pre-PETCO, Giles hit 80 percent more homers on the road than at PETCO.

Despite his home park, Giles still averaged .285/.386/.446 during five full seasons in San Diego. The Padres made the playoffs twice, but won only one postseason game in two NLDS losses.

Bird-Brained
A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

At age 38, Giles struggled out of the gate in 2009 and hit the DL for good before the All-Star break. And this year, after attempting a comeback in the Dodgers camp, Giles has announced his retirement from baseball due to chronic pain in his right knee.

It’s too bad, because Giles’ excellent career has been criminally underappreciated. In an era where power and plate discipline were the best skills a hitter could have, Giles was historically great. Only 12 players in history have hit more home runs with a better BB/K ratio than Giles, including Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols. The other 10 are Hall of Famers named Williams, Musial, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Ott, Morgan, Berra, Mize, Ruth and Hornsby. While few people would group Giles with 10 inner circle Hall of Famers, it’s clear that his combination of power and patience is in elite company.

Giles was no defensive slouch either. After seeing most of his innings in left field for Cleveland, he spent more time in center field during his seasons in Pittsburgh and later moved to right field when traded to San Diego. While never known to have a good arm, Giles showed above average range even late in his career in right field.

While his injured 2009 was a large dropoff, his nine Plus/Minus Runs Saved in 2006 and 13 in 2008 rated second among league right fielders, according to Bill James Online. Here is the graphic from The Fielding Bible, Volume II based on Giles’ 2008 season:

image

As you can see, Giles was particularly strong on deep-hit balls, preferring to allow a few singlesso he could track down potential extra base hits. He made several difficult catches towards the spacious right-center field gap (bright red dots) while giving up some shallow singles (bright blue dots) hit in front of him.

While we don’t have advanced defensive metrics dating back to Giles’ early playing days, the fact that he fared above-average in right field in his late 30s suggestions that Giles could at least hold his own in center field during his prime.

In the end, we’re left wondering “what might have been” of Giles’ career. If he had been given a lineup spot rather than wallowing in Triple-A for three seasons, his career totals would be more noteworthy. Spending six years in PETCO Park probably cost him a few dozen home runs as well. As an afterthought on the mid-’90s Indians and later a star for several small-market, last-place Pirates teams during an explosive offensive era, Giles never received the national recognition that a great hitter and plus defensive outfielder deserves.


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Joe R
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Joe R

I just hope Giles gets his career revisited by the powers that be and get some credit for what he did.

A 136 OPS+/140 wRC+ is nothing to sneeze at. For the record, Mark Teixeira has a pre-decline wRC+ of 138.

Joe R
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Joe R
I just decided to do a quick & dirty analysis. Of the people who reached 6000+ PA in MLB, about 1/4th of them are in the Hall of Fame. Right now, we have 56 active players with at least 6000 PA. So 14 of those, approximately, should be Hall of Famers. You have your no doubters: Ken Griffey Jr Ichiro Pujols Jeter Your more than likely: I-Rod A-Rod Thome Chipper Jones Posada Beltran Then you have “up in the air” ones: Vizquel Manny Delgado Abreu Giambi Giles Helton Edmonds Rolen Berkman Ortiz Torii Hunter Andruw Jones Vlad Guerrero are likely… Read more »
Kevin
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Kevin

How is AROD not a “no doubter”. Is it the steroids?

Djwbaseball
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Djwbaseball
Giles had his four year stretch of greatness, and was above average for the rest of his career (except for 2009).  I don’t think Giles is in the Hall of Fame discussion though.  He didn’t have a period of sustained dominance long enough to be considered one of the game’s all-time greats.  He is similar to Dale Murphy—a very good, but not great, outfielder—but with much more plate discipline and a little less power.  Giles was very under-appreciated by most baseball fans, but he had a good career, made a ton of money, and spent twenty years of his life… Read more »
Joe R
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Joe R

Kevin – pretty much, I suspect there will be some voters who won’t want to put him in.

Performance-wise, he’s a lock, but my list was more built by perception than performance (since we all know that’s what matters more to a lot of those clowns, not that Beltran is actually a better player than Ichiro).

Jacob Rothberg
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Jacob Rothberg

There are certain scumbags who we should all just be glad we don’t need to even feign interest in once they retire. Let this coward ride off to whatever pathetic future is in store for him, and let’s collectively stop writing about men who abuse women. Seriously, this guy’s legacy is that he smacked his girlfriend around, not some combination of PA’s, 2B’s or OBP.

Jason S.
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Jason S.
It doesn’t matter what one stats guy on Hardball Times says.  It matters what the VOTERS think about Giles.  With less than 2000 career hits, less than 300 career homers and less than a .300 batting average, leading the league in an offensive category ONCE in his entire career (it was walks), and never finishing above 9th in the MVP voting… come on.  Let’s get serious here.  It will just about be a miracle if he stays on the ballot after the first year he’s eligible.  Guys like Dale Murphy, who has significantly higher qualifications for the Hall than Giles,… Read more »
BenJ
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BenJ

All-

The conclusion of the article wasn’t that Giles is a Hall of Famer; instead, I wanted to point out that his career was a lot better than most people noticed, for many reasons.  Last year if you had said “Brian Giles is a Hall of Famer”, I would have said “No way”.  Now, I’d say “he probably won’t get voted in, but he was a lot better player than most people think”.

Ben

Jason B
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Jason B
Yes, because no old-timers EVER smacked their wives in the bucolic, perfect black-and-white days.  Not excusing Giles for a despicable action; just hoping it wasn’t making a leap toward “back in my day our superstars played a game on Saturday afternoon then went and did a 10K charity walk that night and taught bible class the next morning…” type of ridiculous statements.  Imagine if we had a 24-7-365 insatiable sports news cycle to feed back in those days.  Maybe some of our idealized greats wouldn’t be remembered in quite the same way? Totally agree with both Jason(S) and Ben. Giles… Read more »
Travis Bickle
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Travis Bickle

An obvious juicer. No mention of it here. HOF? Sure. Big Mac and Giles can go in the same year.

brent willbond
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brent willbond

Giles loved the juice, those pittsburgh years were a joke.

Matt
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Matt
Just though it worth mentioning that Win Shares sees Giles’ best season not as one of his quartet of monster years in Pittsburgh but as his 2005 campaign in SD, when he went .301 15 83, with 119 walks . . . 35 WS, a strong MVP-type total. He may well have been using PEDs, but as Ben alluded to, his post-Pittsburgh “decline” seems to have been more of a park effect (enhanced by aging), than the abrupt fall-off of someone who was juicing and then stopped. Likewise his sudden surge in Pittsburgh could be explained by a combination of… Read more »
Greg
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Greg

I’m confused by your 1994 Indians lineup. Jim Thome never played a single big league inning at SS.

lcfiore
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lcfiore

I believe Vizquel and Thome were reversed in the Cleveland lineup above. I had to go look it up myself to make sure.

Yarko
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Yarko
You are seriously underestimating the perception of Vladimir Guerrero.  He is probably going to get in the HOF without much trouble.  Or at the very least, he’ll have a better chance than Posada, Beltran, and just about everybody on that third-tier list you included.  It’s mostly about perception, as you noted, and Vlad’s perception for at least a decade (and probably little longer) has been that he has been a superstar and elite and HOF quality player.  He’s a superstar with a uniquely memorable approach and loads of ASG appearances support that this is the perception of him.  He also… Read more »
D Leaberry
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D Leaberry

Just as Chuck Knoblauch would have made the Hall if he had stayed in Minnesota, so might Giles made the Hall if he’d stayed in Pittsburgh.  Knoblauch left Minnesota for money, Giles was traded because the Pirates could not afford him.  Giles was not quite deserving of the Hall of Fame, just like Andre Dawson.

Arjay
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Arjay

@D Leaberry – Knoblauch was traded, he didn’t leave as a free agent for the money.  He was on track for 3,000 hits early in his career but just fell apart after that stupid throw in New York.

Northern Rebel
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Northern Rebel
Brian Giles was an outstanding player, and an underrated one at that. But at this point, I’m ready to start kicking people OUT of the HOF. There are too many George Kells, and Chick Hafeys as it is, dragging down the standards of the greatest honor in sports. Now I realize we aren’t gonna throw out Freddie Lindstrom, or Earle combs, despite their lack of serious credentials, but it would make room for players that actually deserve to be there! There are many other old time players greater than Jack Chesbro, and Red Faber, and they aren’t in there either.… Read more »
Mike K.
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Mike K.

One question: how is Carlos Beltran “more than likely” going to the Hall? It’s possible that he could be a corpse at this point in his career, and that just won’t be good enough, no matter what he’s done previously.

William
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William
I think that out of the last group that you mentioned that posada has a better than average chance of getting into the hall because of the position he played.  how many great offensive catchers are there out there.  piazza comes to mind then irod because of mostly his defensive skills.  mauer, if he can remain healthy and put up these albert puhols numbers .  right now id say that gorgi is in the top five or six catchers today.  most catchers can call a game if half decent and have defensive skills but are lacking offensively.  most of that… Read more »
Derek Ambrosino
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Derek Ambrosino

…So, because roughly 25% of all players with 6000+ PAs are in the HOF, if we take a snapshot of the active players at any point in history, exactly 25% of them will wind up in the HOF?

Sure, how could anybody argue with that logic?

And, btw, Giles – criminally underrated, with a career that conspired against him in all ways (late start, bad team in his prime, bad ball park during late years), but he’s not a HOFer. I’d much rather hitch my wagon of support to somebody like Larry Walker.

Northern Rebel
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Northern Rebel
Using ratios to determine who goes to the hall, is exactly what’s wrong with the process! Excellence should determine who becomes immortal, not some mathmatical equation, or how many pals you have on the veteran’s committee. Notice the amount of NY Giants, and ST Louis Cardinals from the 29’s and 30’s in the HOF that are pedestrian at best, then check the names of the veteran’s committee in the 70’s, when these average ballplayers were elected. Coincidence? Third Basemen, catchers, and shortstops from the early days are neglected, because of their lack of firepower, but who were the best from… Read more »
Joe R
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Joe R
What I said wasn’t meant to be a serious analysis, it was trying to map voter tendencies to election. The hype machines always get in first, regardless of quality, then the guys w/ excellent careers (these two groups aren’t mutually exclusive), then you get your borderline BBWAA / future VC crowd. Maybe things change in the future, but it’s not like the BBWAA’s dissenters are nothing but 90+ year old men who loved George Sisler’s batting average (neat trick: say “batting average” in as formal a way as you can, it’s kind of what I think of when people use… Read more »
Larry
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Larry

Giles was a product of the Era he played in with peak power years, but he had a pretty good career, evolving from strictly being a valuable fourth-outfielder type when he first reached the Major Leagues.

He liked to smack the female dog around too, which doesn’t exclude him from the ‘oh, he had a better career than most fans think’ discussion but his domestic abuse issue should be mentioned since people tend to focus on the stats [especially for guys who appear boring and vanilla].

Mike K.
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Mike K.

And on Giles: like, obviously he’s not a great dude and I can understand that coloring an argument, but players with a 136 OPS+ and a career .400 OBP over 1847 career games just don’t grow on trees, especially considering that he had 139/.404 during a career of 1800 games before his abysmal 2009.

Mike K.
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Mike K.

And, as the article stated, he shouldn’t be penalized for being blocked in the majors by one of the most talented lineups in the history of the game when his minor league stats could have made him a starter and a star for any other team.

Besides, who cares about the HoF? He wouldn’t have made it no matter what the end of his career looked like.

Ralph C.
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Ralph C.

I think the problem with this article was the title, which could be read to suggest that Brian Giles might have a chance for the Hall of Fame.  Other than that, it was good. 

I didn’t know Giles ever did that to his girlfriend.  I never knew.

John R
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John R
Nice article.  I admire your dedication, but Giles is not on the HOF radar.  The HOF manitor ranks him at 50.  You would have to double that.  And listing Vizquel as HOF to be, is optomistic, wouldn’t you say?  He has a mantle full of GG and that is it.  So-so BA and a lifetime OPS plus of around 80.  Longevity is on his side at 20 plus seasons. The comments of Joe R leave me confused.  His rankings of the 54 active players makes no sense at all.  He has a bunch of guys floating on the bottom=—all of… Read more »
S
Guest
S
I-Rod is making the hall for sure, it was always Piazza and I-Rod in the 90’s. Posada I don’t see being as likely. I don’t understand why no one has faith in Helton though, he’s in the top 10 all time for OBP and has many more impressive stats, not that he needs them in this era of OBP recognition. I have to disagree with Beltran being better than Ichiro. Maybe for this year due to Ichiro being 36 and Beltran just ending his prime. But it’s always been hard to compare Ichiro to power hitters, it’s just apples and… Read more »
Joe R
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Joe R

If you don’t think there will be masses of voters who will refuse to vote for him, I don’t know what else to tell you.

How’s McGwire doing on the Hall of Fame ballot?

If David Ortiz made the Hall of Fame and Carlos Beltran didn’t, I’d just quit caring. And I’m a Red Sox fan. Ortiz isn’t even close to a Hall of Famer.

Paul
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Paul
Giles underrated? – Yes Nice to acknowledge that Gile HoF? – No Was he unlucky that he was kept down by CLE and traded to Petco – Yes, does he get credited with some more hits/HR – No Edgar has a similar problem, and i think when its all said and done Utely and Howard may not thank Philly for depriving them of a couple of years (though i hope Utley plays long enough to make his HoF case) Joe, you may be ‘crystal balling’ how the voters go, i.e. roids/character etc, but basing it just on the stats, here’s… Read more »
Eric Rosen
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Eric Rosen

RE: Active 6000+ AB players and the HoF

I was curious, so I wrote a query.  For a givn year, here are the %%% of active players with 6000+ AB who went to the HoF:

1964 39%
1965 47%
1966 56%
1967 77%
1968 79%
1969 67%
1970 71%
1971 64%
—-
1972 52%
1973 50%
1974 40%
1975 32%
1976 31%
1977 32%
1978 32%
1979 36%
1980 33%
1981 33%
1982 27%
1983 18%
1984 18%
1985 21%
1986 22%
1987 28%
1988 25%
1989 29%
1990 29%
1991 39%
1992 40%
1993 42%

You could technically add alittle 1972-1986 for Pete Rose if you wanted to…

Looks like a hard and fast rule won’t work with this ranging from 18% to 79% in a 15 year period.

Emerson
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Emerson
For the record, back in 1995-1996, during Brian’s Buffalo triple-A years, I, personally spent a lot of time with him…even maintaining contact until I married in 2006 and moved to Southern California to my husband’s hometown. During that period, Brian had never exhibited any form of verbal, emotional, psychological, physical or sexual violence to me or in my presence–not ever. It seemed he was the antithesis of that type of methodology of dominance, jealousy and control. Albeit, our relationship occurred before the multi-million dollar contracts, and lifestyle pressures; in the cusp of when he was called up from Buffalo to… Read more »
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