Can Giles Bounce Back?

There’s been some discussion recently on the value of Brian Giles. Specifically, did his 2006 season (.263/.374/.397) represent an aberration or the beginning of the end?

Giles turns 36 in January, so it’s tempting to believe that the latter is the case. However, there is precedent for a player performing at a very high level up until his mid-30s, declining, and then re-establishing himself in his late-30s. And we actually don’t have to look that far back to find such a player.

But before we go there, let’s check out some other players who are comparable to Giles according to

Players Similar to Brian Giles through Age 35
Name Years AB OPS+
Stats courtesy of
Bob Johnson 1933-1941 4878 137
Larry Doby 1947-1959 5348 136
Fred Lynn 1974-1987 5985 133
Tim Salmon 1992-2004 5723 129
Ryan Klesko 1992-2006 5249 131
Dante Bichette 1988-1999 5415 106
Ellis Burks 1987-2000 6044 125
David Justice 1989-2001 5227 130
Paul O’Neill 1985-1998 5645 126
Ray Lankford 1990-2002 5547 123

For what it’s worth, Giles’ OPS+ (142) was higher than that of any of his comparables. Most of this is due to his freakish ability to get on base. Acknowledging that, here is how each of these players did from age 36 to the end of their careers.

Players Similar to Brian Giles through Age 35: The Aftermath
Name Years AB OPS+
Stats courtesy of
Bob Johnson 1942-1945 2042 141
Larry Doby N/A N/A N/A
Fred Lynn 1988-2000 940 104
Tim Salmon 2005-2006 211 113
Ryan Klesko N/A N/A N/A
Dante Bichette 2000-2001 966 103
Ellis Burks 2001-2004 1188 129
David Justice 2002 398 106
Paul O’Neill 1999-2001 1673 103
Ray Lankford 2003-2004 200 102

Johnson improved, but that was during World War II, when many of MLB’s best and brightest were serving their country and the talent pool was diluted. Doby, whose career started just after Johnson’s ended, played his final big-league game at age 35.

Lynn and Lankford are the names that Padres fans fear. Each of those fine players saw their skills erode almost completely while in San Diego.

Salmon, Klesko, and Justice all suffered injuries that caused each to miss significant time. Salmon didn’t play in his age 36 season, bounced back in a limited role the following year, and then retired. Klesko collected only a handful of at-bats in his age 35 season and it remains to be seen where he goes from here. Justice retired following his age 36 season due to injuries.

Bichette? He shows up on this list, but his complete inability to draw a walk makes him a terrible comp. Burks looks like a potentially good point of reference, but he never really faced the kind of dropoff that Giles has faced. The main similarity here is that both Burks and Giles are among the most underrated hitters of their time.

O’Neill probably is the most analogous hitter of this bunch, but except for 1994 (his and Giles’ age 31 season are eerily similar), he really is a poor man’s Giles. When O’Neill’s production dropped late in his career, it wasn’t from such great heights. The slope of his decline, in other words, was very gentle. As with Burks, there was no precipitous dropoff from which to rebound.

Having found no suitable comps from Giles’ age 35 list, I investigated further. One name that didn’t appear in the original list kept showing up in comps for previous ages: Moises Alou.

Alou was #1 on Giles’ list through age 28. He was #2 through age 29, #5 through age 30, #2 through age 31, #10 through age 32, #9 through age 33, and #10 through age 34. Suffice to say, their respective careers are more than a little analogous:

Moises Alou and Brian Giles, Age 31 – 35
Age Name OPS+ RC/27 ISO XB/H BB/SO
Stats courtesy of
31 Alou 157 8.58 .270 .423 .966
Giles 173 10.07 .324 .541 1.824
32 Alou injured
Giles 148 7.94 .215 .408 1.810
33 Alou 151 9.86 .268 .373 1.156
Giles 126 6.34 .191 .364 1.113
34 Alou 138 8.25 .223 .347 1.000
Giles 148 7.41 .182 .372 1.859
35 Alou 100 5.05 .144 .293 .770
Giles 105 5.10 .131 .327 1.733

Despite missing his age 32 season, Alou followed a fairly unremarkable path: slight decline through age 34, then precipitous drop at age 35. Giles’ progression is a little less linear: steady drop, then slight rebound, then big drop.

Two things I find interesting here are the changes in strike zone judgment and in isolated power. Both players mostly maintained a constant BB/SO ratio throughout their mid-30s, with one notable exception in each case.

Giles experienced a severe drop at age 33 that accompanied a minor drop in overall production. In truth, though, it was no worse a drop than had occurred the previous season, without any real change to his BB/SO.

When Giles slumped at age 35, his plate discipline was only slightly worse than it had been at age 34 (and still very good by most standards). In other words, he still appeared to be recognizing pitches as well as ever; he just wasn’t able to do as much with the ones he actually atttempted to hit.

Alou’s game, on the other hand, pretty much deteriorated all at once. Like Giles, his power went into serious hibernation (although the slope wasn’t quite as steep); unlike Giles, however, Alou also gave ground in the plate discipline area.

Intuitively, we might expect such a broad decline of one’s offensive game at that age to be irreversible. But with Alou, at least, this hasn’t been the case:

Moises Alou, Age 36 – 39
Stats courtesy of
36 113 5.82 .182 .367 .940
37 128 7.44 .284 .443 .850
38 141 7.76 .197 .314 1.302
39 132 7.24 .270 .462 .903

Alou showed a slight rebound at age 36 in all aspects of his game, and has leveled off at a high (albeit not as high as during his prime) level from age 37 to 39. None of this, of course, is any guarantee that Giles will follow a similar path. It should, however, provide at least some hope to folks who are convinced he is the second coming of Lankford.

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106 Responses »

  1. Re 100

    “…we should have tossed a pitcher in for the big-spending Dodgers, too…” Not obvious enough?

    Perhaps you can tell me what I said about Richard that was “out-of-line” so I don’t make the same mistake again. My only reference to him was his name. I merely repeated, albeit it in a facetious manner, what Richard had written in his post. I said nothing personal, and was no more facetious than Richard in his comment toward Bochy (who is not here to defend himself).

    BTW, it’s nice of you to mediate. I was simply chatting, and I wasn’t offended in the slightest way by being called an ass (and I doubt Richard took my comments to heart). I enjoy and often gain something from Richard’s posts. I just happen to disagree with his view of Bochy’s managing skills. As do the Giants and most other people who don’t have their heads up their … (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

  2. No Linebrink for NOG, per KT this morning:

    Based on track record, I won’t question KT’s ability to size up the market for bullpen arms…

    No Iwamura, no NOG (unless ATL will take another piece in a trade, which seems unlikely)…Garciaparra, Walker, Durham are all serviceable but all have their warts. The injury risk w/ Nomar scares me the most, so I guess I’d rank them in terms of who I’d want first:
    1. Durham
    2. Walker – lack of range on D scares me
    3. Garciaparra – fragility scares me

    That order changes if we get a good IF sub who could spell Nomar and fill in for long stretches in event of injury. I’m not thinking Geoff Blum either.

    There have to be some other, attainable, better options than those 3, right?

  3. Perhaps Richard should be reading Baseball Think Factory’s continuing series on managers – Bochy grades out pretty well, particularly for recent seasons.

    Regardless, I’m still happy they got Bud Black to be their manager.

  4. #94: Well done, Kevin. That is exactly what I’m working on for this morning’s post. Arroyo sure snuck up on me.

  5. You’re right, never mind, sorry for putting my nose where it didn’t belong

  6. 103: I’ve been following it.