2015 Phillies Report Card: Ken Giles

Relievers are fickle. It’s become a truism in baseball, due mostly to the recent ubiquity of analytics. The numbers show that it’s quite tough to predict what one relief pitcher will do from one season to the next. For example, in 2012, Fernando Rodney posted a 0.60 ERA for the Tampa Bay Rays. This past season, he finished with a 5.68 ERA before the Seattle Mariners sent him to the Chicago Cubs. Neal Cotts: 1.11 ERA in 2013; 4.32 in 2014. Huston Street: 1.37 in 2014; 3.18 in 2015.

That being said, a handful of relievers have proven themselves to be reliable year in and year out. This list includes Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner. More recently, additions to the list have included Jonathan Papelbon, Greg Holland (before his injury), Aroldis Chapman, and Craig Kimbrel. Soon, we may be able to add Ken Giles to that list.

Giles worried us initially, failing to reach the high 90’s with his fastball the way he did last year. But as the temperature rose, so did his four-seamer’s MPH. When all was said and done, he averaged 96.5 MPH, 0.7 MPH down from the season prior. It was still good enough to register as the 11th-highest velocity among qualified relievers.

More importantly, Giles’ numbers were outstanding. He posted a 1.80 ERA with 87 strikeouts and 25 walks while allowing only two home runs in 70 innings. In 2014, he compiled a 1.18 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 11 walks while allowing one home run in 45 2/3 innings. By ERA, Giles’ 2015 mark was sixth-best among qualified relievers. His 2.13 FIP also ranked sixth. Other retrodictors, like xFIP, were less kind because it inherently assumes his low home run rate was a product of variance, not skill.

There’s reason to believe that Giles’ low home run rate — currently 3.1 as a percentage of fly balls allowed — isn’t much of an issue. From 2011 to 2015, among relievers who compiled at least 100 innings, six relievers were able to post a HR/FB% of five percent or lower: Blaine Hardy, Giles, Javier Lopez, Wade Davis, Javy Guerra, and Sean Marshall. If we expand the threshold to six percent or lower, our list grows to 20 pitchers. A regression from three to six percent in HR/FB% for Giles, in a single season, would only mean allowing one or two more home runs over a sample size of about 60 fly balls. In other words, if Giles’ low home run rate is a product of skill, great; if it isn’t, expected regression won’t hit him and the Phillies hard the way it would a starting pitcher.

The most impressive aspect of Giles’ 2015 season was that he not only stepped into the closer’s role and did a fantastic job, but he did so filling the shoes of Papelbon, who arguably has a Hall of Fame-caliber career (his grating personality aside). The Phillies traded Papelbon to the Washington Nationals in July in exchange for pitcher Nick Pivetta. Between Papelbon’s exit and the end of the season, Giles went 15-for-17 in save situations with a 1.71 ERA, striking out 33 batters and walking five in 26 1/3 innings.

Giles is 25 and won’t become eligible for arbitration until after the 2017 season. If the Phillies are able to rely on him the way they relied on Papelbon — and the way the Reds, for instance, have relied on Chapman — they will have an elite closer for years to come. One very large headache would be avoided on an annual basis. Relievers like Giles, who strike out a bunch of batters with high-end velocity while walking comparatively few of them, don’t come around very often. That’s also, however, an argument in favor of trading him at some point in the near future.

Grade: A+

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  1. Ryan

    October 27, 2015 08:41 AM

    I’ve maintained for a while now that we should trade him while his value is so high and his cost low. You don’t build a team around a relief pitcher. He could probably bring back several building blocks given his cost, age, and effectiveness. Who knows if he’ll be able to maintain his level of play by the time the Phillies are relevant again? Will he regress as he ages and loses a few MPH on his fastball?

    • Romus

      October 27, 2015 08:50 AM

      Makes sense….but what teams, assuming 2016 pre-season contenders, can you identify now that need a closer and what would be the return?

      • Francisco (FC)

        October 27, 2015 10:44 AM

        The Washington Nationals 🙂

      • Not Hard

        October 27, 2015 12:49 PM

        Dodgers, Blue Jays, Rangers, Angels, Astros, Cubs – need quality setup/closer.

      • Romus

        October 27, 2015 02:29 PM

        But they will need one …Storen wants out, and Paps we know what goes on with that.

      • Steve

        October 27, 2015 06:12 PM

        Dodgers and Cubs dont need a closer, and certainly dont need to trade away significant prospects for one. Both teams are loaded and can afford to buy FA RP, especially when the prospects they don’t trade for Giles turn in to young, cost controlled, contributing players.

    • Adam Dembowitz

      October 27, 2015 12:48 PM

      I’m firmly in the opposition camp on this issue. I don’t accept the premise that there are lots of teams willing to give up big talent for a reliever. What return are we realistically expecting for Giles, and what are the odds that it’ll ever amount to the value that Giles has already provided? Wade Davis was a failed starter and an afterthought in the James Shields-Wil Myers trade, and now he’s the best reliever in baseball. I just don’t see how the Phillies could possibly get enough in return to justify trading a young, cost-controlled, elite reliever. You don’t build teams around RPs, but if you don’t have them, you end up spending $50 million on Jonathan Papelbon.

      • bubba0101

        October 27, 2015 12:50 PM

        I absolutely agree here. The best teams in October have the bull pens to turn the game into a 6-7 inning affair. Just like we did in 2008. Nobody scored on Romero, Madson, and Lidge.

      • Eddie

        October 27, 2015 01:36 PM

        Agree. Other teams understand volatility too, and nobody is going to give up “several building blocks” for a reliever, especially given that he’s only been a major league closer for two months. Rightly or wrongly, most managers eyeing a pennant race are going to want a veteran in that role. If they traded for Giles, it would be as setup guy, and the return would be one prospect.

        Every reason to think the Phils can be relevant as soon as 2018. Giles is under team control until 2020. Silly to trade him.

      • Ryan

        October 27, 2015 03:39 PM

        I don’t know what the return would be, but I would expect it to be significant–maybe a top 50 type prospect, a top 100, and a lottery ticket. There’s no way you would slot Giles in as anything but the top dog in a bullpen–closer if you must use a term. You say that he only has two months of experience as a closer? He was one of the best relievers in baseball statistically (both traditional and advanced) over the past two years and he’s young/cheap.

        Craig Kimbrel got rid of BJ Upton for the Braves. That’s a pretty significant return. I understand that Kimbrel had a longer track record but he was both older and much more expensive.

        As far as saying that you need an elite bullpen to compete in October–I absolutely agree. But let’s look at how the Phillies’ 2008 bullpen came about. Lidge, a very accomplished and elite closer who had a bad year, was acquired in a trade (with a pretty good return I might add); Madson was a failed starter who was converted; and JC Romero was picked up after being DFA’d by the Red Sox.

        What are the chances of him being elite by 2018? 2020? I don’t know–considering that his game is largely based around an overpowering fastball.

      • bubba0101

        October 28, 2015 09:04 AM

        Why does it matter how the bullpen came together? A significant amount of bullpen pitchers are failed starters. Many more just havent been used properly and when they get to a LOOGY or ROOGY situation they flourish. We see last night how important bullpens are. The team with the better pen won mostly because of the quality of pitching they had in the bullpen.

  2. bubba0101

    October 27, 2015 12:48 PM

    Im seeing a lot of high grades in these reports which is encouraging. I know these grades are somewhat arbitrary in nature and are scaled to the production of the worst team (record wise) in baseball, but Im very eager to see how we progress. I think we have the makings of a proper MLB team and we havent even seen a bull of the real talent yet. We have a 3B, two outfielders, two utility infielders, a platoon 1B, two starters, a closer, and a few other reliable releivers. That at least 10 out of the 25 guys we need to make a team. Id say thats a pretty good start for the worst team in baseball to climb up the ranks. And that can only improve between now and opening day with a few spring training battles and choice signings. Phillies 2017!!!!

    • Romus

      October 27, 2015 02:36 PM

      bubba…..don’t forget first choice in the Rule 5 in December which could be another gem like Doobie H…….Rule 4-2016 is 1.1 and also the 38th or 39th pick…….top international allocation money, maybe a Cuban OFer like Y. Diaz or whoever is closer to the majors other then a 16-year old….first choice on waiver claims. There is a sense of more optimism now then this time last year.

      • bubba0101

        October 27, 2015 03:31 PM

        I love it Romus. Thats the big picture. And that stuff matters with all the success teams are having with international signings.

  3. Michael C Lorah

    October 27, 2015 03:00 PM

    I’m in the “if the return is good” camp of trading Ken. It’s not just the return (though that’s a big part of it), but it’s also the volatility of relievers that makes it a move worth pursuing. Even if we assume that the Phillies are relevant in 2018, that’s three seasons away.

    Does Giles health hold up? Lots of stress on his arm to throw that hard.

    Does his performance remain that high? How many relievers are elite for a few seasons but lose that elites fastball velocity and are never the same again? Giles has already lost some ticks.

    I’m wouldn’t trade him unless it’s for a good package, but I’d definitely trade him. That’ll be a bit of a disappointment, honestly, because he’s been fun to watch.

    • Romus

      October 27, 2015 03:52 PM

      MCL…..did you notice the ‘quick squats’ he does between pitches? Some ritual habits I guess are worth keeping when the going is good.

  4. JC

    October 27, 2015 07:25 PM

    I always thought the velocity thing this spring was overblown. Yes, his average velocity was down this year by .7 MPH this year, but he wasn’t in the big leagues in the spring last year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that he typically builds up speed during the summer months.

    • BobSmith

      October 27, 2015 07:38 PM

      His velocity was notably lower in April/May (93-95) and his performance dropped as a result.

      If Giles can continue to improve his slider and develop a few variations of it, he’ll remain a dominant reliever but I can’t see him remaining a dominant reliever for another 3-4 years if he largely relying upon blowing away hitters with a fastball in the upper 90s.

  5. Mark

    October 28, 2015 09:17 AM

    Keep him…please!

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