Should Ken Giles become the closer for the Philadelphia Phillies?


With the recent drama and speculation surrounding current Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, attention has turned to the impressive work of present set-up man Ken Giles. With Papelbon out for 7 games following a suspension, it seems a logical choice for 8th inning specialist Ken Giles to step into the role, but could he hold the position long term?

Giles, who was selected by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 2011 amateur draft, has been absolutely stellar in his first year of Major League ball.

Having allowed just 6 runs through 41.2 innings pitched, striking out 60 and walking 10 as well as sporting a 1.08 ERA, Ken Giles has exceeded his role as a set-up man in many people’s eyes.

10 year veteran Jonathan Papelbon hasn’t exactly been a bad closer for the Phillies, in fact he is widely regarded as one of the better closers in the league on his day, but his general attitude towards the fans (highlighted by the crotch grabbing incident of Sunday’s Marlins game) has made the minds of many fans up and they want him out of the city in the offseason.

That would certainly mean that the Phils’ need a new closer, and assuming they don’t sign a free agent, then Ken Giles seems like the best man for the job if Amaro and Sandberg were to promote from within.

The numbers that he would have to match from Papelbon are not all that impressive. So far this season, JP is 2-3 with a 2.10 ERA, which isn’t awful and actually ranks as 4th best in his 10 year career. However, he has appeared in 64 games and has finished 50, but only has 37 saves on the year. He has blown 4 saves so far in 2014, and in addition to 7 last season (a much worse year I might add), he just simply hasn’t been as effective as his salary suggests. Add to this a total of 15 earned runs allowed and 15 walks to 61 strikeouts, and it is clear to see Papelbon is moving away from elite status very quickly.

Lots of fans wanted to see Papelbon moved at the deadline, as a change of scenery may have reignited his sharpness leading to trade value while the Phillies could have maybe got a prospect or two in return. That didn’t happen, however, and judging by Papelbon’s attitude over the last month or so maybe there are several disappointed parties involved here.

2013 was a dismal year, as mentioned, blowing 7 saves despite going 5-1, and with a 2.92 ERA through 61 appearances (a total he has already surpassed this season), and his 20 earned runs allowed plus a 1.14 WHIP (largely down to allowing 59 hits in just over 61 innings pitched).

The set of statistics that Ken Giles has to make his claim make far better reading. A strikeout to walk ratio of 6:1 certainly helps matters, and allowing just 23 hits through 41.2 innings with a 0.792 WHIP fits into the closer mould perfectly of quick, effective pitching.

Get more used to this. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

“100 miles Giles” as he is memorably nicknamed due to his ability to throw a 100mph fastball, has the arsenal to match. A lightning fastball with fantastic control pins hitters back early in the count, while a slider that touches 87-88 but averages out at 86.7 makes it tough for hitters to even connect. The velocity and vicious break on the slider makes it the perfect strikeout pitch, and allows him to have a simple two-pitch repertoire which he can easily manage, perhaps add to, but certainly master the control of.

Despite his velocity, Giles has a ground ball out percentage of 46.2%, and a similarly impressive 85.4 left on base percentage. Giving up an average of 0.22 home runs per 9 innings, and striking out 12.92 while walking 2.16 should lead all to the conclusion that statistically Giles has had the kind of season to suggest he is ready.

The scary thing about Ken Giles is that this is his first season in the Majors. He still has developing to do at the age of 23, and with more game experience will come a broader understanding of the game and the situations which can occur, which fundamentally he appears to have already.

Becoming a closer carries a certain aura and presence about it, and the clutch of even the most promising young pitchers is fully tested.

Jun 19, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 4-3 in twelve innings. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

One player to find this out was the highly talented Aroldis Chapman,  who is very comparable in terms of pitch speeds and the way he  progressed from the set-up role. Chapman has a ridiculous 418 career strikeouts in 246.2 innings, and this season has a 2.25 ERA despite an 0-3 record and 2 blown saves. He has racked up 33 saves on the year, and a rather impressive 0.88 WHIP through 2014 with the Cincinnati Reds shows that becoming a closer is about having the mental strength and the make-up to do it.

With a similarly small arsenal of pitches, Chapman relies on his fastball (which this season has averaged out at 100.4MPH, slider (at 88.7) and this season he has introduced a change-up which he rarely throws but is still relatively effective at touching 89MPH.

The point to all these potentially mind-numbing statistics is that Ken Giles slots right in with the way he is right now as a definite future closer. Whether it is just short term for now or whether he maintains the role and is allowed to grow into it remains to be seen. He may not even get it at all, but it is very likely he will be allowed to close wherever the opportunity arises in the next 7 games.

It is important for Giles’ confidence that he enters his new role with confidence and faith in his pitches, something which he should definitely have at this point, and it works for Sandberg and Amaro Jr. as a small sample of what they may be seeing next year.

Ken has my backing, and I fully expect he will gain the backing of many others in due course.