Should the Astros make Ken Giles a trade candidate?

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) /

Despite Ken Giles‘ recent demotion to the minors, there should be other teams willing to take another chance on the embattled reliever.

The trade deadline is only a matter of days away on July 31st, and the Astros have adequate time to make another deal or two. Acquiring Martin Maldonado from the Angels was a step to shore up depth at catcher while awaiting on Brian McCann‘s return from the DL. While the need to execute a trade to acquire another reliever is debatable, Houston should be on the lookout.

In terms of trade chips, the Astros have plenty in the minors. Names like Yordan Alvarez, Cionel PerezJ.B. Bukauskas, and others litter top prospects rankings. Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley are also top prospects, however, general manager Jeff Luhnow in the past has expressed a notable desire that both players are off-limits in trade negotiations. But the Astros may have another interesting trade chip, albeit not under the best circumstances: Ken Giles. You can thank Kevin Gould’s recent article for Bleacher Report along with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic for giving me the idea.

Before I delve into Giles’ issues this season, let’s be clear on the following points:

  1. Giles has the type of pitching arsenal that every team desires in the back-end of a bullpen.
  2. The age-27 right-hander is under team control through 2020.
  3. Before the 2017 postseason, Giles had a history of success with the Phillies and Astros.

One calendar year ago, it would’ve been imprudent to trade Giles. Before last season’s trade deadline, the Astros’ reliever posted a 3.11 ERA and 2.65 FIP over 37 2/3 innings. He would finish the 2017 season with a 2.30 ERA and 2.39 FIP over 62 2/3 innings. Yes, Giles lowered his ERA considerably over his final 25 innings of the season. That’s a quality reliever if I ever saw one.

The wheels came off of Giles in spectacular fashion during the postseason, though. We’re all familiar with his issues then. Unfortunately, those issues also carried over into the 2018 season as he left the majors with a 4.99 ERA over 30 2/3 innings. To his credit though, he has a 2.28 FIP in major league action. The key issue though with Giles is the lack of success in non-save situations compared to save situations.

Non-save situations: 18 2/3 innings, 8.20 ERA
Save situations: 12 innings, 0.00 ERA

I’m curious to see what a more thorough analysis would uncover behind Giles’ struggles, but for the purpose of this post, ERA and innings will be just fine. Regardless of the metric, Giles has had issues in situations where a save isn’t on the line.

In terms of his actual pitches, Giles’ four-seam fastball and slider have maintained roughly the same velocity as in past seasons. The horizontal movement on his four-seam fastball has changed somewhat while the vertical movement on the pitch has remained consistent with past performance. The slider, though, has shown an increase of vertical movement. There could something there with the slider, but it still doesn’t explain Giles’ issues at surface level.

Despite his troubles in 2018, Giles’ actual pitch quality in terms of velocity and movement are roughly in line with his previous seasons. A sudden drop in velocity is an easy indicator to identify in times of struggles, but that isn’t the case here. And there isn’t a sudden gain in horizontal or vertical movement despite baseball being a game of mere inches. It very well could the location of his pitches. Based on a heatmap from Baseball Savant, Giles is locating more pitches in the heart of the strike zone in 2018 than he did in 2017.

While I do not like to speak for people’s emotions, it is also clear that Giles has had issues on how he handles his feelings on the mound. The infamous face punch and cursing at manager AJ Hinch demonstrate why his emotions can be an issue. While it is true that Giles needs to fine tune his pitches in Fresno, it was also response to his emotional outbursts.

That said, should the Astros consider trading Giles?

If I can be honest, I am not sure. On one hand, the pitch velocity is still clearly there. It is hard to give up on a pitcher with an arm like that. The reason why the Astros targeted him before the 2016 season remains. On the other hand, a change of scenery may do wonders for Giles. Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle noted that the team “don’t have a timetable for Giles’ return.” That is not surprising as consider the brief amount of time he has actually spent in Fresno. And while the results — one earned run in 4 1/3 innings — are positive, this is still a small sample. I also have a hunch that the Astros aren’t looking exclusively at the results as the organization watches intently on how Giles handles each situation.

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That said, we’ve all seen the return a reliever can generate on this trade market. While Giles will not command a large return, Jeff Luhnow and the front office would likely generate something of value. Of course, this thought is based on the notion that the Astros are done with Giles, and I am not sure if that is the case. At this point, I do think it is worth exploring a change of scenery for Giles. He is too talented a pitcher to not stay in the minors for long, but I have to wonder if he burned his bridge to Houston. If not, he may only get one last return trip.