Ken Giles Has Emerged As A Top-Shelf Reliever

Before Ken Giles‘ mid-June call up to the Major Leagues — after throwing all of 13 2/3 innings in his first taste of Triple-A competition — some space was devoted here to urging caution and patience with the talented right-hander. It was not misguided, as Giles was displaying control problems reminiscent of Phillippe Aumont. He walked 13 of 114 batters he faced prior to his promotion to the majors. The 11.4 percent walk rate would be the 33rd-highest out of 201 relievers with at least 25 innings pitched this season.

Additionally, with the Phillies in the midst of another lost season, it made little sense to rush a rough-around-the-edges reliever to the majors and start his service time clock earlier than necessary. There was reason to want to see more than 28 2/3 innings above Single-A from the right-hander. In short, there were a lot of reasons to keep Giles away from the major leagues.

The Phillies didn’t, and they got it right.

Since making his major league debut on June 13, Giles has an astounding 1.27 ERA and a 41/6 K/BB ratio in 28 1/3 innings. Pick a stat, any stat, and Giles smells like roses.

1.34 FIP. 1.81 xFIP if that’s your flavor. 1.36 SIERA. That’s not just good; that’s elite. It’s the type of stuff that commands multiple years and tens of millions of dollars on the free agent market. Come with me.

Giles’ 39.4 percent strikeout rate is the sixth-highest among all major league relievers with at least 25 innings pitched. His 5.8 percent walk rate ranks 41st out of 201. Giles’ 6.83 K/BB ratio is seventh-best in baseball. His 33.7 percent K-BB% (strikeout rate minus his walk rate) is fourth-best.

Here are the relievers, between 2011 and 2013, who posted a K/BB ratio of 6.5 or better (min. 50 IP):

Player SO/W IP Year Tm
Koji Uehara 11.22 74.1 2013 BOS
Koji Uehara 9.44 65.0 2011 TOT
Edward Mujica 9.20 64.2 2013 STL
Rafael Betancourt 9.13 62.1 2011 COL
Mark Melancon 8.75 71.0 2013 PIT
Jonathan Papelbon 8.70 64.1 2011 BOS
Craig Kimbrel 8.29 62.2 2012 ATL
Mariano Rivera 7.50 61.1 2011 NYY
Wilton Lopez 6.75 66.1 2012 HOU
Jake McGee 6.64 55.1 2012 TBR
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/20/2014.

Granted, there are a couple names on there — Mujica and Lopez, whose ratios had less to do with striking batters out than refusing to let them reach base with a walk — who don’t make your loins quiver, but that’s a pretty solid list of closers. It’s hard to fake your way onto lists that involve Uehara, Papelbon, Kimbrel, and Rivera.

Obviously, the Giles hagiography must come with the standard warning about relievers: small sample size. 28 innings is nothing. It’s four or five starts from a guy in the rotation. The league has only had a few months to get acquainted with him, so his ability to adjust to the adjustments will be an important factor in his success going forward.

The talent, however, is there. He is clearly a reliever capable of taking over as the Phillies’ closer once they decide to close the book on Jonathan Papelbon. Furthermore, that may be a role in which he sticks for many more years, including the time when the Phillies are no longer a bottom-feeder in the National League. Giles could be one of a select few who could help usher in a new era of Phillies baseball, along with Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, and J.P. Crawford.

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20 comments

  1. Chris S.

    August 20, 2014 08:45 AM

    Hopefully Giles success has made the Phillies more aggressive in shopping Papelbon. Maybe the Phillies could get a decent deal from the Tigers who need all the help they can in their shambles called a bullpen. Maybe we could deal both Bastardo and Papelbon and get something of value back from Detroit.

    • Andrew Cleveland Alexander

      August 20, 2014 10:24 AM

      Bastardo didn’t get through waivers, I don’t think. But Papelbon did. He’s been pretty definitive about vetoing any trade where he doesn’t go someplace where he can close, which (despite his generally disagreeable personality) is economically rational. His 2016 option (ugh) triggers according to games finished this year and/or next, so he’ll be leaving millions on the table if he shifts to a setup role either with the Phillies or someone else.

      • GB

        August 20, 2014 02:02 PM

        This is when Amaro needs to sit down with Papelbon and have a come of jesus talk. We’ve treated you very fairly here, we need to move on, you deserve another shot at a ring and here is a stack of greenbacks to STFU about your “preferences”. We’ll consider putting you on the backside of the Wall of Fame after you retire.

      • ASK

        August 20, 2014 04:43 PM

        You are right about his option being based on games finished, but it is not necessarily likely to vest. He needs to finish 55 games in 2015 or 100 games in 2014 and 2015 combined for it to vest. Today, he finished his 40th game, which puts him on pace for 51 games finished this year. If the Phils continue to be generally bad, he could very well finish less than 50 games this year and again next year.

      • Andrew Cleveland Alexander

        August 21, 2014 09:23 AM

        Doesn’t seem like I can respond directly to you ASK. While I agree with your analysis that it is unlikely to vest next year so long as Papelbon pitches for the Phillies and the Phillies continues to be bad, he’s going to cling to any possible chance of making it. His best chance of making the number is for him to force a trade to a contender as a closer, which seems to be exactly what he’s been not-so-subtly pushing for.

        So while Papelbon seems dumb, he’s not being stupid.

      • ASK

        August 21, 2014 03:45 PM

        ACA,

        That’s a fair point.

    • Mike Lacy

      August 22, 2014 12:20 PM

      I don’t think there’s a “need” to push Giles into the closer role ASAP. Having multiple reliable late-inning guys is a good thing.

  2. tom b

    August 20, 2014 10:39 AM

    the reason people throw out the phrase ,small sample size, isn’t just to cover your bases.it’s a valid point. it’s way too early to call him elite. not fond of papelbon but have to admit he’s done his job rather well. read where buster olney says to demote papelbon now because giles is pitching great and to ruin the chances for the 2016 option to happen. lke the thought of getting out of that option,but you’d be on a slippery slope doing that.

    • Francisco (FC)

      August 20, 2014 10:40 AM

      If the Phillies can lose enough, maybe the option won’t trigger… wait I may have hit on why Sandberg and Ruben insist on making dumb moves…

    • Andrew Cleveland Alexander

      August 20, 2014 11:48 AM

      People were making this same argument about Rollins last year. Sounds like a brilliant strategy, unless you ever want to sign another guy to a free agent contract with a performance-based option. If your team gets a rep for screwing players over, no matter how richly deserving of it they may be on a personal level, you’ll get in hot water with the union and agents will steer you elsewhere. I think the Mets ran into this problem with K-Rod a couple years ago, they were having trouble demoting him from the closer role even after he got arrested for assaulting an in-law at the stadium:

      www.nytimes.com/2011/07/13/sports/baseball/mets-trade-closer-francisco-rodriguez-to-the-brewers.html?_r=0

      I wouldn’t wish injury on anyone, but the best outcome for the Phillies might be that something non-career threatening happens to Papelbon early next season (strained oblique?) and puts him on the shelf for a month, taking the games-finished incentive out of the equation. Then he might become an attractive trade target, and he might even be willing to set up, given the fact that he’ll be auditioning for his next contract.

  3. lew

    August 20, 2014 12:11 PM

    Lidgelike when he was in prime

  4. Major Malfunction

    August 20, 2014 12:59 PM

    What I find most amusing about Giles success is that he said when he came to the bigs, he abandoned all the crap they had him change mechanically in the minors and just started “throwing strikes”.

    Didnt Aumont complain about this, too? Are the Phillies minor league pitching coaches too worried about getting 6 inning quality start pitchers rather than actually harnessing the individual talents of players? Sometimes, a Hunter Pence or Tim Lincecome comes along that just doesn’t fit the mold you want him to fit. Let it go and see what happens rather than just try to make the player “conform”.

    • MattWinks

      August 20, 2014 06:46 PM

      The Phillies rebuilt his delivery last year (while he rehabbed an oblique injury) and the result was a more consistent delivery a slider that jumped multiple grades. He flashed this potential last year, but could hold the delivery together. This year they forced the slider and fastball command in the minors and just let him pitch in the majors.

  5. GB

    August 20, 2014 01:55 PM

    Good article…question for the folks with better knowledge of our farm system than I: what round was Giles drafted in and was he heralded as a top prospect or did he really come out of nowhere?

    Small sample warning is valid, but like you said the talent is there and he could become a really good, cheap and under team control performer for the Phils. We need guys like that to balance out our top heavy payroll and will continue to need them as we shed payroll & build back up.

    • ASK

      August 20, 2014 04:47 PM

      7th round in 2011

    • MattWinks

      August 20, 2014 06:44 PM

      Was up to 99 out of junior college, had a poor slider and splitter. He had huge control problems and in his first 3 years in the system he walked 70 in 122.2 innings pitched.

      While struggling with oblique injuries last year the Phillies eliminated the splitter, simplified the delivery, and emphasized the slider and he showed inconsistent flashes to end the year. He has been a Top 30 prospect the past two offseasons

  6. DanM

    August 21, 2014 12:38 AM

    “The 11.4 percent walk rate would rank 33rd out of 201 relievers with at least 25 innings pitched this season.”

    “His 5.8 percent walk rate ranks 41st out of 201.”

    Please edit.

    • Bill Baer

      August 21, 2014 12:47 AM

      One is his minor league walk rate, one is his major league walk rate.

      He walked 13 of 114 batters he faced prior to his promotion to the majors. The 11.4 percent walk rate would rank 33rd out of 201 relievers with at least 25 innings pitched this season.

      • DanM

        August 22, 2014 12:42 PM

        But both rates are being compared to major league relievers, correct? I’m not trying to be annoying, I was just confused by how an 11.4 percent rate would rank 33rd, while a 5.8 percent rate ranks 41st.

      • Bill Baer

        August 22, 2014 12:48 PM

        Ah, I see what you mean now. I sorted the walk rates from highest to lowest for the minor league rate, and from lowest to highest with the major league rate, and the wording didn’t reflect that. Sorry for the confusion, and thanks for catching the mistake.

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