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.

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11 comments

  1. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    April 15, 2014 03:30 PM

    I agree that the Phillies should have some patience, but one counterargument: power arms like Giles’ tend not to have great longevity. If the odds are strong that Giles only has a limited number of pitches in his arm before he injures something or just loses some of that velocity, then leaving him in the minors to throw those pitches to Eastern League batters is a bigger waste than starting his service time clock and losing him to free agency in six years. Chances are a 29-30 year old Kenny Giles is going to look a bit like Kenny Powers on the mound.

    But I agree that we shouldn’t call him up based on 6 games, however dominant. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with the Phillies in a month or two, though.

  2. theo

    April 15, 2014 05:30 PM

    Only thing….100 mph throwers only have so many arrows in their quiver…..those guys need to be capitalized on between 23 and 27 or 28…..they usually have a short half life…..is there really a need to see him strike out 15 batters every 18 outs like he’s doing right now for the next 5 months. How long should we wait before we get him up here doing something.

    • eddie

      April 15, 2014 05:55 PM

      Only thing….100 mph throwers only have so many arrows in their quiver…..those guys need to be capitalized on between 23 and 27 or 28
      ….
      Yeah, it’d be a shame if he wound up like that Ryan kid the Mets had.

      My understanding of the kinesiology is that power arms flame out when they’re overused and/or when their mechanics are flawed — the greater torque just acts as a multiplier for the same kind of injuries all pitchers get.

      In theory, at least, in the minors they’re going to be protecting him and closely watching his mechanics. — I’d be cautious about giving that asset to a rookie manager starving for effective relievers on a team built to win now in a major media market.

  3. Brian Finamore

    April 15, 2014 05:40 PM

    I’m sorry are you secretly Ruben Amaro Jr.? When the Phils brought up Manship(6.47 ERA) BJ Rosenberg (4.52 ERA) Diekman(5.70 ERA) and Garcia hasn’t pitched since 2010…wait on Giles??? YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE! If the kid doesn’t work right away you fine tune him but at least there will be some excitement at the ballpark. I don’t get this pessimistic approach to Giles, lets see what he has!

  4. Joe Grubb

    April 16, 2014 07:53 AM

    Wow, you’ve been drinking the Dave Montgomery Kool-Aid! The Phillies have a loooong history of not bringing up prospects until they’re 26-27, thereby limiting their productive major league careers. This guy will either work out or he won’t, his arm will either hold up or it won’t. What is the point of wasting that arm at Reading, when the outcome will likely be the same either way? He’s 23, not 18. Plus, it’s not like you’re throwing him into a pennant race. The team is mediocre now and likely to stay that way all year (and for several years – another story), see what he’s got without a season on the line. Get some stones, Phillies, get out of your comfort zone.

    • MattWinks

      April 16, 2014 10:41 AM

      The whole bring them up late thing is blatantly wrong, and they are a bit older but many of the “core” were college guys and were 22 in the year they were drafted. Here are some debut ages for homegrown players:

      Chase Utley – 24 (College)
      Ryan Howard – 24 (College)
      Jimmy Rollins – 21 (HS)
      Pat Burrell – 23 (College)
      Cole Hamels – 22 (HS)
      Kyle Kendrick – 22 (HS)
      Domonic Brown – 22 (HS)
      Jonathan Pettibone – 22 (HS)
      Cody Asche – 23 (College)
      Vance Worley – 22 (College)
      Brett Myers – 21 (HS)
      Gavin Floyd – 21 (HS)

      Do you want me to continue? Your notion of what age prospects arrive at are entirely colored by an incorrect view on prospects and development. The Trouts and Harpers of the world aren’t normal in any sense of the world. For the most part HS players take 4-6 years in the minors and college guys a couple years less, and that is if everything goes right.

      • tom b

        April 16, 2014 02:46 PM

        calm down mr.montgomery, i mean winkleman. i dont disagree though,the real problem is the farm system is brutally weak. is clearwater the worst team ever,not counting the rest of the phillies farm system?

      • Kevin

        April 17, 2014 05:59 PM

        What matters, in my view, is not when a guy first appears in a MLB game, but how long it takes to develop him into a full time Major Leaguer:
        Chase Utley – (College) 4 yrs
        Ryan Howard – (College) 6 yrs
        Jimmy Rollins – (HS) 5 yrs
        Pat Burrell – (College) 3 yrs
        Cole Hamels – (HS) 3 yrs
        Kyle Kendrick – (HS) 5 yrs
        Domonic Brown – (HS) 7 yrs
        Jonathan Pettibone – (HS) 5 yrs
        Cody Asche – (College) 3 yrs
        Vance Worley – (College) 3 yrs
        Brett Myers – (HS) 4 yrs
        Gavin Floyd – (HS) 5 yrs (traded)

        A few other current players who came up through the system:
        Darrin Ruf – (College) 5 yrs (so far)
        Carlos Ruiz – (HS) 7 yrs
        Freddy Galvis (HS) 7 yrs (so far)
        Cesar Hernandez (HS) 8 yrs (so far)
        Antonio Bastardo (HS) 5 yrs
        Jake Diekman (College) 5 yrs
        BJ Rosenberg (College) 5 yrs

        A mixed bag here… Your statement that 4 to 6 years for a HS kid strikes me as about right. But for sure, College picks who are considered prospects should be on the fast track. To take 4 or more years to develop a College prospect is problematic, especially if he was originally a pick in the first 5 rounds. When you enter the system at 22 after playing years of College ball, 2 to 3 years is all it should take (if the young man can play). I think it’s clear that either a) the Phillies are VERY conservative with moving College players through the system or b) the system’s instructional resources are lacking and it takes them longer. Check out the Braves results in this area…

  5. Dante

    April 16, 2014 08:55 AM

    Maybe I’m just naive, but why don’t these power pitchers take a little off the max effort fastball (bringing it down to , say, 97) to get greater command?

    • MattWinks

      April 16, 2014 10:32 AM

      Because often it is not an easy thing to just take a little off the fastball. You start messing with the delivery and timing too much and suddenly it is 93-95 and you are throwing strikes but you aren’t missing bats. What makes Giles special is that he is 98-100 with a tight slider, you start dialing back from that and you might get safer, but you lose the upside

  6. Mark66

    April 16, 2014 03:26 PM

    This is a catch 22. Is he ready or isn’t he ?? As much as this team obviously is going to struggle with no sense of direction, you might as well give the kid a shot. There is really nothing to lose. Bring him up for a couple of weeks. Just maybe he can re-energize this team. Maybe this is the shot in the arm this team needs. This very old team with the exception of Utely is doing nothing. I would be ashamed to ask for a paycheck with the performance of players like Howard.

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