2014 Phillies Report Card: Ken Giles

Ken Giles pitched the first 45.2 innings of his Major League career in 2014, which is about 60% of a full season for a reliever. We can’t really draw any meaningful conclusions from a sample size that small. Sure, we could run through all the awesome highlights from Giles’ statistics in those 45.2 innings – for example, the fact that of 171 relievers who pitched 40 innings or more, Giles was seventh in K% at 38.6%, behind Aroldis Chapman (a ridiculous 52.5%), Andrew Miller and Brad Boxberger (42.6% and 42.1%, both also completely ridiculous), Dellin Betances and Wade Davis (39.6% and 39.1%) and Craig Kimbrel (38.9%). Or we could talk about his K-BB% of 31.9%, which was sixth behind Chapman, Miller, Sean Dollittle, Boxberger, and Betances (and better than Davis, Kenley Jansen, Greg Holland, Koji Uehara, Kimbrel, and David Robertson). Since this report card is supposed to be an evaluation of the player’s performance this season, that kind of analysis is warranted. OK, fine.

Giles 1.18 1.34 2.03 1.51 38.6% 6.6% 31.9% 0.79
Rank (of 171 RP with 40+ IP) 3rd 3rd 7th 5th 7th 49th 6th 5th

Any way we slice it, Giles had a fantastic season in 2014. He struck out everybody, didn’t walk nearly as many batters as he did in the minors, and the ERA retrodictors indicate his performance is backed up by his skills. I don’t want to go any further with the numbers now, and if you want more, Bill already did some good statistical analysis in this August 20 article. I want to step away from the nerdtastic data analysis we usually do, just for a moment, to take a longer-angle view of Giles and how he symbolizes the next era of Phillies baseball.

Ken Giles is 24 years old and will pitch his age-24 season in 2015. He’s under club control for six seasons, so he can’t be a free agent until after the 2020 season. He throws a 98 MPH fastball (that’s average velocity, by the way) and an 87 MPH slider. Good gravy, that’s some serious heat. His profile at Brooks Baseball is breathtaking:

His fourseam fastball is blazing fast, generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers. His slider generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sliders, is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sliders, is much harder than usual and has primarily 12-6 movement.BrooksBaseball.net

So, yeah. He’s pretty awesome. He’s cheap and young and he’s a Phillie. Ken Giles is one of the reasons we should all feel good about this offseason and the current rebuilding period. A seventh-round draft pick from the ABQ, Giles was always known for a big fastball, but it was his work to significantly improve his slider that has made him the Phillies’ best relief pitcher. Credit the Phillies’ scouting and development departments, and thank Brad Lidge, Justin De Fratus, and IronPigs pitching coach Ray Burris for helping Giles unlock this beast.

giles_slider 2


giles_slider hop

It’s felt like a really long slog, and the process has been drawn out, and there’s certainly more bad baseball to come. The new ballpark and big payrolls, coupled with the rise to the playoffs in 2007 and the team’s dominance from 2008 to 2011, have inflated our expectations. We want a winner, and we want it now. After watching the Giants win three World Series in five years – one partially at our expense, and two helped significantly by the Hunter Pence trade – it’s time to close the book on the negativity and depression wrought by these last few years. The Phillies had a five-year run in the playoffs, won a glorious World Series title and painfully gave away a second, and slowly, year-by-year, exhibited more fatal flaws that finally overpowered what skills the players had left. The Phillies were great. Then they were humbled.

For a franchise that won all of one World Series from 1903 to 2007 (losing in 1915, 1950, 1983, and 1993), a five-year playoff run was unprecedented, fantastic, and intoxicating. This was the best Phillies team ever, better than the Mike Schmidt teams of the mid-70s and early 80s, full of some of the franchise’s all-time greats, with Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Cole Hamels at the core of that greatness. We are now paying off those five years, thanks in no small part to some disastrous decisions by the organization regarding Ryan Howard, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence, and while it’s hard to keep this in perspective, there’s nothing at the bottom of that well of angst and second-guessing. The Phillies haven’t made the playoffs for three years now, and it’ll most likely be two or three years before we can really start having some fun with playoff talk. But, we have Ken Giles, and Maikel Franco, and Aaron Nola, and J.P. Crawford. For more on those last three players and more, check out Baseball Prospectus’ detailed breakdown of the Phillies’ system.

Moving forward into 2015, it’s not unreasonable to expect a very productive offseason for the Phillies. Not everything will fall into place, but envision the following possibilities:

-Sign Yasmani Tomas to a seven-year, $110 million contract (with a player opt-out after the fourth or fifth year).

-Sign one or two of Jason Hammel, Brett Anderson, or Justin Masterson (a totally variable situation depending on what happens with A.J. Burnett). Brandon McCarthy, Francisco Liriano, and Hiroki Kuroda are also free agents, but will likely command deals that would make the Phillies uncomfortable.

-Trade Marlon ByrdJonathan Papelbon, and/or Ryan Howard.

There’s obviously a wide range of probabilities there, but nothing on that list should be a surprise if it happens. If nothing on that list happens, the Phillies would still be OK, but it would be inconsistent with the publicly proclaimed rebuilding plan. The Phillies finally have some financial flexibility on the horizon, but even so, it’s no secret they’re willing to be aggressive in their pursuit of Tomas. With or without A.J. Burnett, the rotation needs some players to fill spots, because right now it’s Cole Hamels, whatever Cliff Lee has left, a non-strikeout 5th starter type in David Buchanan, the newest Crashburn favorite Jerome Williams, and a bunch of young guys. Maybe Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez competes for a spot, but the Phillies will need to bring in some more bodies to eat up innings regardless.

The upcoming two seasons will be the last of this era. Soon, Maikel Franco and Aaron Nola will join Ken Giles as the faces of the next era of Phillies baseball, and further on down the road, J.P. Crawford will join them. For now, Ken Giles, with his triple-digit heater and filthy slider, is already the best relief pitcher in Philadelphia. In 2015, whether as closer or setup man, he’ll prove emphatically that he’s one of the five or ten best relievers in baseball.

Grade: A+

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  1. Carmine

    November 04, 2014 12:26 PM

    I’m all in on Ken, but please, Sandberg, take it easy on him. We want him on the mound, not on the surgeon’s table. I hate the Papelbon contract, but at least it gives the team a reason to keep Ken in a setup role while he matures.

    • Adam Dembowitz

      November 04, 2014 02:37 PM

      I’m not sure I fully understand your comment. You seem to be saying you want to protect Giles’ arm, but you also want him to pitch the 8th. I think Sandberg would be more likely to overuse Giles in an 8th inning role. Managers, including Manuel and Sandberg, tend to save the closer for only save situations. In the 8th, Giles may exceed 70 innings in a year, while as a closer he’d be closer to 60 innings.

  2. Chris

    November 05, 2014 10:42 AM

    As the toughest critic on this board as regard to grades. You hit out of the ball park with this one. Nice job.

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