The Incredible Shrinking Marcus Giles

With all of the talk of Braves fans focused on the struggles of Adam LaRoche, Jeff Francoeur, and the bullpen, one very bad season is flying under the radar. Marcus Giles has gone from being one of the best offensive second basemen baseball to Keith Lockhart, putting up a .235/.326/.324/.650 line for the year. While Giles has been a little unlucky, his PrOPS for the year is .687, which isn’t so hot. What happened?

Well, what talk I have seen about Giles often mentions steroids, and the suggestion is understandable given the burden of proof for these things these days. Giles is playing about 180 OPS-points below his career. And since his breakout season in 2003, his isolated-power has dropped from .216 to .132 and .170 in 2004 and 2005. This year, it’s under .100. Given the stiffer testing policies people are wondering if that’s the cause.

But the thing is, although Marcus is playing below some of his past numbers, there is a very good explanation for his drop-off: it’s a mirage, his early power was a fluke. It turns out that Giles has been one of the luckiest hitters in baseball over the past four seasons. In my article on PrOPS in the The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, I list the 25-luckiest PrOPS seasons—meaning OPS exceeded PrOPS—over the pas four years. Giles appears twice: his 2003 is number 11 (overperformance of 0.086) and his 2005 is number 19 (overperformance of 0.081). Additionally, based on Giles past PrOPS performance, I projected he’d have an OPS of 0.776 this year. He’s still hitting below that, but I don’t expect his OPS to stay where it is for the rest of the season.

Giles is not a bad player, in fact, he’s a good player with excellent defense and on-base skills. However, those flashes of a potential MVP that everyone saw—including me—were largely a product of luck, not steroids. The only juice Giles might have been on is Felix Felicis.

12 Responses “The Incredible Shrinking Marcus Giles”

  1. Erik says:

    I think Giles still needs to settle into the leadoff role. If you take a look at how he swings the bat, its always this awful uppercut swing. I think he needs to learn to hit a few line drives and bloop singles instead of swinging for the fences.

    That, of course, will come around eventually. He’s going to have a decent season this year- by no means remarkable, but not bad, either.

  2. Joe Arthur says:

    Looking at Giles’ hit types on balls in play from 2002-2004, it looks as though he basically got the “expected” number of singles, triples, and homeruns each year for a player with average speed and near-average power. What really bumped up his OPS in 2003 was 15 extra doubles while maintaining a near average number of home runs based on his number of outfield flies. In 2005 he also had about 13 ‘extra’ doubles, 8 more singles but 9 fewer HR. I’m not sure why PrOPS finds his 2005 season to be so lucky. In 2006, it looks to me as though his singles doubles and triples are all “normal”; his deficit is all in homeruns. with 48 outfield flies, an average player might expect 5 home runs. Giles has 1. Still well within the realm of simple luck.

  3. JEC says:

    How do you explain why he used to look like a professional body builder and last year he came to camp so thin he looked like his skin was falling off his face?

    Statistical drop-offs aren’t the only indicators of steroid use.

  4. JC says:

    How do you explain why he used to look like a professional body builder and last year he came to camp so thin he looked like his skin was falling off his face?

    I’ve watched Marcus since came up. He looks no different to me. I’ve never heard anyone else comment on his physique like that. Even if it’s true, muscles are not necessarily steroid-induced. It’s nasty business to accuse people of using steroids on such flimsy evidence. I think people need to be more careful.

  5. Erik says:

    He might have voluntarily lost some bulk so that he could speed up- he’s known for awhile he would be in the leadoff spot.

  6. Matt says:

    I like what JEC says about statistical dropoffs not being the only indicator of steroid use, especially considering the fact that there has not been ANY PROVEN indicator of steroid use to date.

    It’ll be a huge relief when we get to the point where the “S” word isn’t invoked into every baseball conversation.

  7. Marc says:

    I agree with JC; no one should lightly throw around accusations based on the idea that a player “looks” different. That is nasty business.

    It’s not unusual in baseball history for players to have several very good years, then drop off. Giles may simply have lost something in his swing or technique or his body may have gone through some sort of natural change that affects his mechanics. The point is, there could be lots of reasons for the dropoff (and, after all, it’s still very early in the season) without bringing steroids in without any evidence. Clearly, though, Giles has at least leveled off. But that’s been true of a lot of Braves players over the years–they get to a certain point and then plateau.

    I have one question. I don’t really understand the concept of a player being lucky or unlucky. Obviously, it’s a statistical concept based on the various sabermetric measurements. I’m not that well-versed in this stuff. Just what exactly does it mean?

  8. Subrata Sircar says:

    When most statheads talk about luck, they tend to mean “reality differs from the model”. :which we believe have no predictive value, produced the difference between PrOPS and OPS”.

    That italicized phrase is the key. It is unlikely, for example, that the flash of sunlight off someone’s watch that happened to blind the CF as he tipped Giles’ fly ball over the wall would be repeated; if that happens enough during a season, it will skew the numbers, but it is unlikely to happen again next season.

    Thus, “lucky” = “it was a fluke, it helped and it probably won’t happen again”.

  9. Subrata Sircar says:

    When most statheads talk about luck, they tend to mean “reality differs from the model”. In other words, based on Giles’ other statistics, the PrOPS model believes his OPS should be X, while it actually is Y. If Y is higher than X, the player is lucky; if it’s lower than X, he’s unlucky. (These assessments have value in direct proportion to the predictive power of the model over the period you’re attempting to study.)

    A more precise, but useless explanation would be “factors unaccounted for in our model created the difference between PrOPS and OPS” i.e. lucky = “beneficial unaccounted factors”. A more useful version is “factors unaccounted for in our model, which we believe have no predictive value, produced the difference between PrOPS and OPS”.

    That italicized phrase is the key. It is unlikely, for example, that the flash of sunlight off someone’s watch that happened to blind the CF as he tipped Giles’ fly ball over the wall would be repeated; if that happens enough during a season, it will skew the numbers, but it is unlikely to happen again next season.

    Thus, “lucky” = “it was a fluke, it helped and it probably won’t happen again”.

  10. Andy says:

    Hmmm… Matt said,

    Unfortunately, while we may want to believe that the ‘S’ word will go away, I’m afraid that will never be the case. As time goes on, there will be better masking agents and newer, undetectable manufactured steroids to go along with HGH (and remember, there is no good test for HGH now). Performance enhancers will be part of baseball for as long as the salaries are in the millions and people are willing to part with a few quality years at the end of their lifespan for an extra few million dollars.

  11. Marc says:

    Thank you for the explanation.

  12. rynliquid says:

    Addressing the “Giles looks thin” comment. I don’t remember the details exactly, but remember that he didn’t play most of spring training due to medical problems involving one of his children.

    I would imagine that having an effect on getting into playing shape.