Searching for Saves: Philadelphia Phillies: Why Ken Giles Is No Guarantee To Close

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

The assumption has been that Jonathan Papelbon’s time is running out in Philadelphia (and the rumors have been there about potential trades), as the team is clearly in the process of a rebuild.  They also have a seemingly obvious replacement ready to step in, after Ken Giles was a strikeout machine in 2015.

Is Papelbon a certainty to flounder, even if he stays in Philadelphia?  Is Giles a can’t miss “closer of the future”?  Is there someone else fantasy owners should be eyeing?  Let’s take a look:

 

Jonathan Papelbon
There are two different risks when it comes to Papelbon:

  1. The risk of a trade
  2. The risk of general struggles

We have no control of the first risk, though at this point you have to wonder if the Phillies may wait to trade him.  Even that is no guarantee, however, given his contract and his vesting option for 2016 (worth $13 million).  The Phillies will have to find a team willing to potentially take on that much money for what will be a 35-year old relief pitcher or swallow some cash.

The second one is also difficult to expect.  While Papelbon appears to have worn out his welcome in Philadelphia, he has continued to produce like one of the elite closers in the game.  Last season he posted a 2.04 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 39 saves.  His strikeouts were down for a second consecutive season, with a K/9 of 8.55, but he continues to have elite control (2.04 BB/9 in ’14, 2.28 for his career) and keep the ball in the ballpark (0.67 HR/9).  You can also point to luck, with a .247 BABIP, but again it’s not enough of a red flag.

Papelbon’s mouth and antics are the bigger issue, as well as a rebuilding ball club, but it’s not his production on the field.

 

Ken Giles
No one is going to question that he’s likely the closer of the future, but the mistake people seem to be making is assuming he’s a can’t miss player.  That’s nothing against his skill and ability, but he can hardly be considered a “lock”.

He as electric stuff, averaging 97.2 mph on his fastball in the Majors last season, and has proven capable of piling up the strikeouts, 12.61 K/9 in the Majors and a 12.13 K/9 in his minor league career.  However, there are two potentially serious issues that people are overlooking.

Control
Yes, he posted a 2.17 BB/9 in the Majors but he owned a 5.43 in the minors (and 5.27 in 13.2 innings at Triple-A).  There can be hope that he figured it out, but it’s certainly not a given.

Home Runs
Giles didn’t get burned by the long ball in the Majors (0.20 HR/9), but over his minor league career he was at 0.70 (including a 1.40 in 25.2 IP at High-A in ’13).

Possible control and long ball issues?  That’s a scary mix for any closer.

 

Jake Diekman
Like Giles he has shown a tremendous ability to generate strikeouts (100 K in 71.0 IP in ’14), but has potential control issues (4.44 BB/9 in ’14).  While he’s shown more ability to generate groundballs (43.3% in ’14, 47.4% in the Majors), he also has been prone to line drives (26.8% for his career).

That said, would it really be a surprise to see Diekman emerge as the better alternative?  At the least, one could easily argue that he has a similar upside and if Papelbon were to be traded it could go in either direction.

 

Conclusion
At the end of the day, Papelbon should still be viewed as the better option for the team.  The problems are attitude and financial, as the rebuilding Phillies could keep him from closing in an effort to make him a more palatable trade target.  It remains to be seen if they go that route, but it’s a risk that needs to be considered.

While many assume Giles will be the replacement if/when a change happens, the savvy owner would be wise to stash Diekman as well.  He actually has a similar makeup with more groundball potential, it’s just been overshadowed by the unbelievable (and potentially unsustainable) numbers Giles posted in ’14.

Sources – Fangraphs, Minor League Central

Make sure to check out all of our early 2015 rankings:

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