Astros: Thoughts on Ken Giles and the weirdest walk-off

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 10: Manager AJ Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros takes the ball from Ken Giles #53 in the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Minute Maid Park on July 10, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JULY 10: Manager AJ Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros takes the ball from Ken Giles #53 in the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Minute Maid Park on July 10, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

The Astros somehow won a game in a truly bizarre set of circumstances. No, I’m not exaggerating when I state it as “truly bizarre”.

If you want to start a fight in Houston, mention Ken Giles. Like him or not, he is probably the most divisive figure in Houston sports today. 

That said, there is so much to unpack in just one game. Like, Justin Verlander. Zero runs over six innings is pretty dang good. Alex Bregman hit two home runs, yet won the game on a walk-off “hit” that travelled only a few feet? Catcher error? Regardless, the Astros won the game in one of the strangest endings you’ll ever see at a ballpark

In what has been ruled a fielders error, the ball only had a 58.2 MPH exit velocity with a 7% hit probability. Baseball can be so unpredictable. 

Now, Giles (sort of) stole the show last night. And it wasn’t due to a great performance. He essentially made himself the center of attention due to his poor appearance along with his “classy” reaction when manager AJ Hinch mercifully ended his night. 

Regardless of the outburst, Giles has been all over the place this season. 

On the surface, Giles’ overall numbers are not that good. A 4.99 ERA over 30 2/3 innings isn’t an endearing stat line for any pitcher. However, there is more to Giles’ performance than meets the eye.

For example, the age-27 pitcher has a 0.00 ERA in 13 save situations with only one walk and 16 strikeouts. That’s good. For the season he only has allowed three walks while striking out 31 batters. Sure, the strikeout rate is down by a good margin for the season, but the drop in walks is favorable. His velocity is slightly down, but it isn’t cause for alarm.

On the other hand, Giles in non-save situations has been a hot mess. And that is putting it kindly. A 8.20 ERA in 21 appearances that did not qualify as a save situation. That’s quite bad. And while I do believe the competition card is played too much in baseball, it is fair to go back and reexamine the circumstances of those save situations. Proper context is key when examining the numbers, and that’ll be a task for another day.

It is no doubt strange seeing a closer struggle in low leverage situations. Plenty of times it has been the exact opposite in high leverage situations. Here’s how Giles has performed in the three leverage situations by OPS allowed as defined by Baseball-Reference.

  • Low leverage: .826

  • Medium leverage: .367

  • High leverage: .765

While the high leverage OPS of .765 is concerning in its own right, an .826 OPS in low leverage situations essentially means those batters are above-average against Giles. Another concerning point has to be the increase in exit velocity this season.

Exit velocity by year since 2015

  • 2015: 87.3 MPH

  • 2016: 87.2 MPH

  • 2017: 86.6 MPH

  • 2018: 90.5 MPH

But an argument could be made for Giles being prone to bad luck this season. A .366 BABIP and 2.25 FIP would indicate as much. And FIP — Fielding Independent Pitching — provides insight on how a pitcher actually performed once you’d strip away defense, sequencing, and luck. After all, Giles cannot control the defense behind him, or how a ball bounces on the infield dirt. Even how the events transpire play a part.

For example, there are two pitchers facing the same opposition and throwing the same quality pitches. Pitcher “A” has the following events occur: single, strikeout, home run, strikeout, and groundout. That’s a total of two earned runs. Now take Pitcher “B” with the same events, but in different order: strikeout, home run, strikeout, single, and groundout. Same events, but in a different order would have Pitcher “B” surrendering only one earned run. The difference in the sequence would clearly cause a difference in both pitcher’s statistics, despite throwing the same pitches and the same events taking place despite at different points in time. Of course, pitchers cannot control sequencing, so use your own discernment in this regard.

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In all, Giles has been all over the place this season. The numbers almost seem to paint two separate versions of the Astros’ reliever. There are indicators to the credit of the good and the bad results. But it is obvious that Giles cannot be trusted in wide range of situations right now, and his reaction leaving the field doesn’t help his cause.