Be Patient, Temper Expectations for Ken Giles
Last night’s bullpen meltdown brought calls for Double-A reliever Ken Giles to a fever pitch. Giles, 23, has gotten off to a fast start with Reading, striking out 14, walking two, notching five saves, all without allowing a single run in six innings of work. Giles throws a fastball which reaches the triple digits along with a power slider. GM Ruben Amaro said of the Phillies promoting Giles earlier on WIP, “I think you have to think about it.”
The full quote:
“I think you have to think about it … I think he’s made great strides,” Amaro said of promoting Giles to the majors. “I mean, this is the first time he’s ever pitched above A-ball and what did he have, a 6.00 or 7.00 ERA last year in A-ball? And he’s coming off a year where the kid, the young man is still learning, but if he continues to locate his fastball and throw strikes consistently and we feel like he’s a guy that can help us, then we’ll bring him.”[...]
“We’re not afraid to bring guys to the big leagues,” said Amaro, who also noted that the Phils have no issue promoting a pitcher from Double A straight to the majors. “For us it’s about whether or not we feel the player can handle it. We don’t just bring a guy just because he happens to have a hot hand. We have to take the whole picture into consideration and the whole body of work of this young man and the way he handles things.”
Ruben Amaro on WIP, April 15
When Giles is on point, he’s nearly unhittable, as his current strikeout rate and ERA indicate. When he’s off, which has been a common sighting over his brief professional career, Giles can be frustrating. Entering 2014, Giles hadn’t pitched above A-ball and walked 72 batters in 112 1/3 innings, facing 509 batters in total, for a 5.8 BB/9 and 14% walk rate. Last season, the only MLB relievers to finish with a walk rate of 14 percent or worse were Carlos Marmol (17.8%) and Al Alburquerque (15.5%).
Relievers with big fastballs and control problems have developed into quality closers before. Craig Kimbrel is perhaps the best and most recent example. From 2008-10, Kimbrel walked 95 of the 627 batters he faced (15%) over 151 innings (5.7 per nine innings). Over his 233 innings in the big leagues, though, those rates have dropped to 9.2 percent and 3.2, respectively.
However, the Kimbrels of the baseball world are outliers. For every one Kimbrel, there are ten Marmols and Alburquerques, and scores of others who were never given the chance to fail at the big league level. While it’s absolutely possible that Giles can overcome his control problems and develop into the Phillies’ closer of the future, we certainly can’t make the assumption that he will after seeing him pitch his first six innings at Double-A and without ever having faced Triple-A competition.
It is understandable to want to see a new cast of hurlers in the bullpen when the current corps has been the source of a great deal of frustration, but Giles is likely to run into the same problems that the other young arms before him have faced. Promoting him so early could stunt his development and it would unnecessarily start his service time clock, which would make him a free agent much sooner than he otherwise would be, meaning the Phillies get less value out of his arm if they’re impatient.