Next up in the trade deadline profile series is a player that I didn’t expect to be a target at the beginning of the season — Blue Jays’ reliever Ken Giles.
Giles, 28, is probably most famous for being the Astros’ closer on their 2017 World Series-winning team. But from the 2017 postseason through last season, he wasn’t the same pitcher. He has, however, figured things out in 2019 and is back to being one of baseball’s best closers.
When he came over from Philadelphia in a deal that landed Philly Vince Velasquez and former No. 1 overall pick (now retired) Mark Appel, he was thought of as the future stopper in the Houston bullpen. And he was until last season, when he began to struggle mightily. He struggled so much that he was traded for literal human garbage in Roberto Osuna.
So, what happened? What changed?
It wasn’t anything to do with velocity. Giles is averaging 97.3 MPH on his fastball and 86.6 MPH on his slider — both right in line with his career averages. But the effectiveness of each pitch has varied over the last few seasons. According to FanGraphs’ pitch value, Giles’ fastball was 4.3 runs above average in 2017, -4.3 RAA in ’18 and is just 0.1 RAA this season. His slider has always been solid. It was 11.3 RAA in ’17 (7th-best in MLB among relievers) and is already at 7.7 RAA this season (5th-best in MLB). He has thrown the slider at a higher rate this season than in any other season, and when it’s that good, it’s hard not to.
What might be most impressive about Giles’ turnaround is his plate discipline statistics. Giles has induced a 39.1 percent chase rate (O-Swing%) this season, which is 8th-best among MLB relievers. And his eye-popping 20.4 swinging strike rate (SwStr%) trails only noted racist Josh Hader (24.2 percent).
Giles’ slider is similar — in terms of effectiveness — to that of Will Smith’s, which I profiled in the first entry in this series. Here are the hitting lines and expected hitting lines on the pitch this season:
- BA: .109
- XBA: .095
- SLG: .145
- XSLG: .126
- wOBA: .129
- xwOBA: .119
- Exit velo against: 82.2
- Whiff%: 58.1
It’s nearly unhittable. Here it is in GIF form.
He appears to be all the way back and the Blue Jays are sure to have no shortage of suitors for Giles before the July 31 trade deadline even if he has already missed time this season with inflammation in his elbow and is now dealing with nerve irritation in the same right arm … from a massage.
Giles is under team control for one more season, so the acquiring team will get him for — in essence — a season-and-a-half. He’s making $6.3 million in his second year of arbitration this year and should see a substantial raise come the winter ($8-10 million). The fact that he’s not a rental is going to drive his price up a bit. He won’t cost what it might take to get Vazquez, but he’ll cost more than Smith.
The Dodgers under Andrew Friedman have a little trade history with the Blue Jays. They made deals for Chase De Jong & Tim Locastro on international signing day in 2015, Jesse Chavez back at the 2015 trade deadline, Chris Heisey at the wavier trade deadline in ’15, sent Darwin Barney up north for Jack Murphy in winter ’15, nabbed John Axford at last year’s deadline and re-acquired Russell Martin over the winter. This doesn’t mean a trade is imminent — far from it. It’s just nice to know both sides are familiar with one another if the hope to consummate a deal.
Estevez can hit and can play either middle infield position. The Jays could find room for him at the MLB level, once he’s ready. Ortiz would be a nice lower-level arm to snag in hopes that he becomes a viable MLB starter one day. The real prize for Toronto here would be Gray. He has been great since coming over from the Reds and the Jays could continue to develop him as a mid-rotation starter.
Gonsolin could slot into the Jays’ rotation today (well, once he recovers from a hamstring injury). Peters could easily take one of the outfield spots with his massive power/athleticism profile. Santana could supplant Vladimir Guerrero Jr., at third base (defensively), freeing Vlad Jr., up to shift to first base and/or designated hitter (and continue to hit massive dongs).
Giles would be a nice fit in the bullpen. He’d give the Dodgers a dominant, shutdown right-handed reliever. You know, the guy Joe Kelly was supposed to be. The minor injuries are a little concerning, but that’s not gonna stop the Jays getting a nice haul in return for him. If the Dodgers get him, they’re going to have to give up some significant prospect capital.