Ken Giles: Strikeout Machine
Ken Giles was a virtual unknown in the fantasy baseball universe at this time one year ago. He wasn’t on any top prospect lists and aside from the fact that we knew had a live arm, the odds of him putting it all together and making an impact in the big leagues seemed remote at best. After the Phillies lost their primary set-up man Mike Adams to an injury, Giles (who had spent the better part of two months mowing down minor league hitters) got the call on June 8th and began to rack up strikeouts at a rate that fantasy owners couldn’t ignore.
It’s insanely hard not to like Giles. Just watch him throw one inning and you’re hooked. Giles arsenal features a blazing fastball that can hit 100-mph and a devastating slider that enabled him rack up 64 strikeouts and post a 1.18 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP over 45.2 innings of work as a rookie in 2014.
Just how good was Giles last season? Among relief pitchers who threw at least 40 innings, only Wade Davis (1.00) and Drew Storen (1.12) posted a lower ERA than Giles (1.18). Using the same criteria on the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Giles also finished with the 13th-best K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) ratio (12.61) of any reliever in baseball, ranking just behind elites like Aroldis Chapman (17.67), Dellin Betances (13.50), Kenley Jansen (13.91), Craig Kimbrel (13.86) and Greg Holland (12.99).
The only thing holding Giles back from being a consensus top-10 relief pitcher in fantasy baseball, as soon as 2015, are the lack of saves. The presence of veteran Jonathan Papelbon, who is in the final year of his contract, means that Giles is not likely to get save chances right out of the gate, which should depress his fantasy value this offseason.
We saw a similar phenomenon occur with Jansen going into the 2013 season. The Dodgers had acquired former Mariners closer Brandon League late the previous year and insisted that he would be their closer, even though it was clear that Jansen was the better fit long-term. Dynasty owners who invested in Jansen during that offseason got him at a huge discount when he finally took over the job from League, early in the 2013 season.
Based on that recent example, Papelbon’s presence may be a good thing for fantasy owners looking to acquire Giles as a core long-term piece in dynasty leagues. Once Giles gets handed the ninth inning, his fantasy value will go through the roof and he will likely become untouchable in trade discussions.
If you are rebuilding a dynasty roster or just looking to acquire an impact closer at a discounted rate, Giles, at age 24, is the perfect target. I’m happy to pay now for the positive contributions Giles will make in every other pitching category, with the potential to rack up saves once Papelbon is mercifully expunged from Philadelphia by the trade deadline.
We should not rule out entirely the possibility that Philadelphia does their best to keep Giles out of the closers role for as long as possible to keep him from racking up saves, which will make him more expensive in arbitration. We saw a similar situation last year in Cleveland, when the Indians brought in free agent John Axford to close instead of handing the job to Cody Allen, who ended up taking over the role and racked up 24 saves. At this point it seems inevitable that Giles inherits the closer role, but do not rule out Philadelphia doing their best to keep his cost down by leaving him as the primary set-up man until they can sign him to a long-term extension.
In a rare moment of lucidity, the Phillies finally admitted what we had all realized years ago, they won’t be competitive next season. This admission, combined with the reality that there is little incentive for them to keep a high-priced closer around on a team that is destined to finish under .500 makes it all the more likely that Giles will be closing games sooner rather than later this upcoming season.