Lost in all of the news surrounding the Astros controversial acquisition of Roberto Osuna, the team decided to the turn the page on another closer in the process.
When the Astros lost in the ALDS to the Royals back in 2015, the common thought that a dominant closer was needed. A guy that can finish games like Billy Wagner in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, or Brad Lidge before a hanging slider met Albert Pujol’s bat in 2005.
By mid-December, the Astros acquired their guy from the Phillies: hard-throwing right-hander Ken Giles. Here’s brief snapshot of the trade itself.
RHP Ken Giles
RHP Vince Velasquez
RHP Mark Appel
RHP Tom Eshelman
RHP Harold Arauz
At the time, it was perceived to be a hefty price for a reliever, albeit one with multiple years of team control. Today, I still don’t know what to make of this trade. Multiple players are still in baseball except for Appel. This trade, in particular, will also be remembered not only due to Giles, but also the inclusion of Appel, the number one overall pick in 2014. While three of the five players that the Phillies received are still in the organization, only Velasquez has had extended time in the majors. Potential remains for this trade to yield dividends for the Phillies. Same applies to the Astros depending on the career of Arauz.
From the Astros’ point of view, the acquisition of Giles was meant to solidify the back-end of a bullpen that relied upon Luke Gregerson as the primary closer in 2015. Following 70 innings with a 1.80 ERA and 15 saves with Phillies in 2015, Giles was brought in to be the closer. In turn, Gregerson was to be the team’s primary setup reliever. It was a good plan on paper, but Giles had a rough start to his tenure in Houston. In his first 14 appearances as an Astros, Giles posted a 9.26 ERA, allowing opposing hitters to post a .975 OPS against him. As the season progressed, both Giles and Gregerson were considered to be the closer. To his credit though, Giles did manage to lower his ERA down to 3.47 before a late season rough patch raised it back to a 4.11 ERA.
The 2017 season was different, though. Giles was firmly entrenched as the club’s primary closer from the onset of spring training. And he delivered. Over the course of 62 2/3 innings, Giles posted a 2.30 ERA and 2.39 FIP with 34 saves. He struck out 83 batters compared to 21 walks, allowing only four home runs all season. Heading into the postseason, it appeared that he was ready to pitch in high-leverage situations with the World Series on the line.
Alas, life never fully works out in ways that we hope.
Through seven appearances in the playoffs, Giles allowed ten earned runs on twelve hits. Following his implosion in Game 4 of the World Series, he did not make another appearance as the Astros held on to best the Dodgers in seven games. While the organization and the city of Houston celebrated a World Series title, the future of Giles as an Astro was starting to become uncertain.
Fast forward to the present, and we all know how Giles’ season has unfolded. Despite performing well in save situations, the age-27 reliever couldn’t get the job done in non-save situations. Call it BABIP’d or whatever, but the results weren’t satisfactory. That said, his underlying numbers like velocity and batted ball contact were still promising. The key issue may actually lie in the horizontal movement of his slider. But his baseball performance on the mound was only part of the equation. In short, Giles’ emotions was his ultimate downfall in Houston. Between the infamous punch to his own face following a go-ahead home run to Gary Sanchez and cursing towards, or at, manager AJ Hinch, it was clear that the Astros need to do something. Turns out his demotion to Fresno never included a return trip to Houston as a member of the organization.
All of that said, I wish Giles nothing but the best in Toronto. A fond farewell, if you will. While it was a shame to see how his tenure in Houston ended, he did contribute to a World Series champion. His 2017 regular season performance, in particular, should be remembered fondly. That season proved why the Astros went out of their way to acquire Giles roughly two and a half years ago. Despite the struggles, one could always tell that Giles fought to perform well for the sake of his team. I don’t believe anyone can question his effort in this regard.