Houston Astros: The Ken Giles dilemma

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One of the goals in the Astros offseason was to bulk up the strength of the bullpen, which was largely one of the most impressive bullpens in the MLB in 2015, until the last couple of months. In trying to achieve this, a blockbuster trade for Philadelphia Phillies closer, Ken Giles in what essentially turned out to be a 7 player trade was made. Giles would be brought in to become the legitimate closer, taking over for current closer Luke Gregerson, who was rather steady in 2015 as the Astros closer, but still lacked the overall consistency to win that spot in the long term.

This one year deal put Giles in competition with Gregerson for the closing spot in spring training, and ultimately Gregerson won the position. Since Gregerson was awarded the spot, Giles has consistently shown the Astros, on field, a subpar performance that couldn’t have been predicted when he was brought on. The same pitcher who boasted a 1.18 and 1.80 ERA, in that order, during his 2 year stint with the Phillies currently holds the highest ERA on the Astros roster, at 9.26. This is higher than catcher turned pitcher for one inning Eric Kratz.

Speculation has come from team manager A.J. Hinch that being the set up man for Gregerson in the 8th has been too much pressure, especially in close games. Giles himself has stated, essentially, that he’s playing in his own head right now and hasn’t been comfortable on the mound this season with the Astros. This has clearly been seen, with Giles being at least partially responsible for blowing leads or close games at least 5 different times this year. In the 11.2 innings Giles has played for the Astros, he’s amassed 12 runs. That’s a run per appearance on the mound.

So what can you do with a pitcher brought in to close that can’t handle the pressure of being the set up man for the closer that beat him out? Was it a knock on his confidence to lose closer to Gregerson, who he was brought in to replace? Possibly. To ease the pressure of setting up Gregerson in the 8th, Hinch has plugged him in to relieve in earlier innings. He’s been brought in to face a single batter, as well as an inning in the 7th over the past week. The single batter was a success, the inning – he had to be pulled, and did enough damage with 3 batters to help lose the lead and eventually the game.

What’s the next step? Will he be tried in other innings? In the 6th when Fiers starts, or when any other of the starting pitchers need to be pulled early? Will that be his new mission? Will he be relegated to a RHP utilized on one or two ABs to close out an inning? Is that what we paid for? We had more than that with Vincent Velasquez, one of the pitchers lost to the Phillies in the trade. If that’s the answer – to experiment and see which inning works the best for Giles, then the Astros may as well start looking for a trade in the mid-season. Or, they can bite the bullet and send Giles down.

This isn’t a move that gives up on Giles. It’s a move that supports him. He’s in a funk and it’s not getting better when he hits the field. He wasn’t brought in to play 1/3 of an inning when the Astros need a strikeout to end an inning. He doesn’t want to play that. He’s regressing every time he gets out on the mound, though. His presence on the mound lacks any kind of confidence, and that’s been seen in almost every outing. He needs his confidence back, and needs to directly train as a closer for a few weeks so he can do what he was brough in for – to replace Gregerson.

It’s the same thing that is happening to Gattis as we speak. Gattis was optioned to Corpus Christie yesterday to be primed to back up Jason Castro as catcher.This isn’t a new position for Gattis, as he has experience catching for the Braves (2014 had him behind home plate for a majority of the season), but the move to train specifically in the AA as a refresher. The same could and should happen to Giles. Get him back on track to be closer, and bring him back up when he’s finally ready to close. This needs to happen sooner rather than later. Other wise, his trade will end up being a joke.

The Astros bullpen isn’t stacked right now, but with Feliz being brought back up it’s not shallow either. With McCullers impending return at any time in the next few weeks (with any luck) and Devenski and Fister improving their outings to stretch more than 5 or 6 innings, the pressure on the bullpen is slowly being relieved. Now is the perfect and necessary time to go ahead and make the move with Giles. He’s needed this season, and so is his Phillies ERA. He can get it back, but it’s not going to happen by shoving him into the relief rotation at random spots, hoping that’s the trick.

Save Giles’ season, Hinch, and send him down to Fresno. It’s the right move, and and the right time.

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