The Milwaukee Brewers are undoubtedly in need of help in their bullpen. There are few available relief pitchers better than Toronto’s Ken Giles.
The Blue Jays closer is in the midst of his most dominant Major League season. In 31 innings, he’s kept a minute 1.45 ERA with a 15.4 K/9. Giles is also the shockingly rare reliever that piles up strikeouts but doesn’t walk a lot of batters. His 2.6 BB/9 is just below his career 2.7 BB/9 mark.
The dominance Giles has shown has been backed up by other performance metrics. His FIP sits at 1.45 and DRA at 2.20. That performance is right behind Josh Hader, who carries a 2.20 DRA.
Giles throws two pitches: a fastball and a slider. While his fastball isn’t bad, his slider is the out-getter for him. The fastball sits around 97 mph, but is the hittable offering. The runs above average sits at 0.1. While that’s not ideal, it’s a substantial improvement from last year’s -4.3. Meanwhile, his slider has is worth 7.7 runs above average. Giles has never had a negative run value on his slider in his career.
The big plus for Giles’ performance this year is his swinging strike percentage. Over the last few years, he’s sat at an admirable 16%. This season, he’s at 20.2%, the highest of his career. He’s also getting more hitters to take a chance at hitting pitches outside of the zone.
The success is there this season, but his volatile history is still concerning. The Houston Astros acquired Giles from the Philadelphia Phillies after Giles established himself as one of the best relievers in baseball. During his time with Houston, Giles lost the closer job on a few separate occasions.
In 2016, Giles was expected to push Luke Gregerson for saves early, but allowed 8 runs in 11 April appearances. He wouldn’t be given the closer role until August and he dominated for most of the year (discounting one six-run appearance).
Giles kept that spectacular form going in 2017 until it mattered most. Once Houston started using him in playoff games, the otherwise reliable closer couldn’t stop giving up runs. That year alone, Giles allowed a 11.74 ERA in his 7.2 innings, including a 3-run outing where he didn’t record an out in the World Series.
When 2018 came around, he started struggling come summer. Houston once again removed him from the closer role before agreeing to trade Giles in a multi-player deal to the Toronto Blue Jays for Robert Osuna, who was serving a domestic abuse suspension at the time. Giles was still roughed around out of the gate with Toronto, but settled down at the end of the season. In the last 17 games, he allowed only two runs.
During the trials mentioned above, both FIP and DRA showed that Giles was likely having a stronger output than his performance suggests. That combined with exceptional walk rates and a nearly unhittable breaking pitch suggest that he’s more likely to be reliable than unreliable. Still, the risk is there.
Anyone who’s been watching the Brewers this season know that this type of performance is something the Crew desperately need. Since June 1st, the Brewers’ bullpen has been the 8th worst in all of baseball and 5th worst in the National League with a 5.07 ERA. Last season, the Crew has the 2nd best bullpen ERA in the NL.
Giles won’t be a cheap get. Not only is he one of the most dominant pitchers available on the market, he has an extra year of control. While that increases cost, it almost makes it more enticing for Milwaukee. Getting a great player now is one thing, but having a back-end of the bullpen made up of Knebel, Giles and Hader would easily be one of the most dominant groups on paper. Then again, the team expected that type of dominance before Knebel and Jeffress were injured.
The former top prospect won’t come cheap fiscally, either. Despite being roughed around in 2018, his salary went from $4.6 million to $6.3 million for this season. With another year of arbitration around the corner and a great season in the books, it’s possible Giles could be looking at anywhere from $8 to $10 million for 2020.
While the cost is a detractor, it’s still underpaid compared to recent reliever contracts. That means that the Brewers can’t argue for much of a discount in negotiations and still need to pay up if they want an elite back end pitcher.