Potential Twins Bullpen Target: Ken Giles, RHP, Blue Jays
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsSome of you might remember during that great postseason run by the 2017 Astros, one piece that wasn’t firing for them was the backend of their bullpen. A big part of this was due to the fall of Ken Giles, who was rocked for 10 runs on 12 hits and five walks in 7 2/3 innings pitched in the 2017 postseason. Those struggles carried over into 2018, and led to the Astros decision to demote him to AAA before ultimately trading him to the Blue Jays in part of the package that sent Roberto Osuna to the Astros. Giles didn’t have a lot more success with the Blue Jays than he did the Astros, and finished 2018 with a 4.65 ERA. However, it wasn’t all bad in 2018, as Giles did have a much better 3.08 FIP, that was aided in part by his extremely low walk rate of just 3.3 percent.
Now in 2019, Ken Giles seems to have regained the form that helped him become the dominant backend of the bullpen reliever that he was during his first four seasons as a big leaguer. Among qualified relievers, only Ryan Pressly, Brad Hand, and Shane Greene have a better ERA this season than Giles’ 1.08. Some of the more in-depth metrics support that this is the real Ken Giles, and that 2018 was more of a fluke/bad luck season. In addition to his 1.08 ERA, Giles sports a 1.17 FIP, which is topped by only Kirby Yates’ 1.14 FIP among qualified relievers. If you look at the Statcast metrics over at Baseball Savant, it backs up the case that Giles is back to his dominant form even more. So far this season, Giles has allowed opposing hitters to hit at a .207 clip, compared to his expected batting average allowed of .188. Giles has also been better from an expected wOBA perspective, as Giles .247 wOBA allowed is actually slightly higher than his .243 xwOBA.
A big part of Giles' success has come from regaining his ability to strike people out. During his dominant stretch from 2014 to 2017, Giles struck out 33.7 percent of opposing hitters (which ranked 9th among all relievers with at least 100 IP over that time). In 2018, that number fell to just 25 percent. However, in 2019, Giles has gotten his strikeout rate back up to 42.4 percent, which ranks third among qualified relievers this season. A big part of this can be explained by Giles getting back to using his slider more often. Here is a graph showing Giles' slider usage rate over the past few seasons.
(Chart via Baseball Savant)
As we can see, Giles threw his slider far less often in 2018 than he had been previously, which could help explain his dip in performance. In 2019, Giles’ slider usage is back up to 49 percent, which is the highest rate of his career. It becomes even more clear that this has had an impact when we look at the next chart that shows us just how much better Giles is with his slider than his fastball.
(Chart via Baseball Savant)
A big part of what makes Ken Giles slider so effective is how often he gets opposing hitters to swing and miss at the pitch. So far this year, opposing hitters are whiffing at 61 percent of Giles' sliders that they swing at. That is the highest rate of any pitcher who has thrown at least 100 breaking balls this season. It is also apparent that Giles started throwing his sinker again in 2018, but he is still rarely using it (under four percent of the time) so I wouldn’t put much stock in that pitch for now.
One concern the Twins could have for Giles is regarding his health, as he was placed on the IL last week with elbow inflammation, but he was reinstated onto the active roster on Thursday, so they will have some time to evaluate if he is truly healthy before they are forced to make a decision on him.
Giles is currently making $6.3M in his second year of arbitration and will be under team control through the 2020 season if the Twins were to trade for him. If you are wondering what it would take to pry Giles away from the Blue Jays, I assume they will be demanding a package in return that is similar to what the Twins received in the Ryan Pressly trade with the Astros a year ago.
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