On the heels of a late-season bullpen implosion that nearly cost the Astros a playoff spot in 2015, the front office pulled off a Winter Meetings swap with the rebuilding Phillies for twenty-five year old righty Ken Giles. Known by Philly fans as "100-Mile Giles" for his triple-digit fastball, Giles holds a pretty distinctive record in his young career- he has the lowest ERA of any pitcher in history with at least 100 innings at 1.56, as well as a career 11.7 K/9.
Acquired for four pitching prospects, Giles wasn't officially named the closer upon his arrival in December. But for the price, upside and lack of power arms in the Astros bullpen, it's easy to see Giles' maximum value in that ninth inning role. In 2015, the Astros ranked dead last in four-seam velocity among relievers at 91.2 miles per hour. Even with an outstanding bullpen last season, regression and possible overexertion of a number of relievers was evident. With average-velocity relievers like Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson and Tony Sipp holding down the fort, there's plenty of room for poor batted ball luck, which probably contributed to some late season struggles in 2015 from the unit last season.
Giles' role should ease those low-velocity issues in the mold of a old-school, flame throwing closer with two killer pitches. Giles averaged 96.5 miles per hour on his fastball last season, and he also throws an effective slider. Sound familiar? If you've been paying attention to the Giles hype, his arsenal seems to fit also-former Phillies and Astros closer Brad Lidge. Armed with a high octane fastball and a wipeout slider, Lidge made hitting a living hell for National League batters.
Though the comparison between Giles and Lidge is definitely worth a more in-depth look at some point, here's a quick three-month sample of swinging strikes from 600 pitches during Lidge's 2008 (top) and Giles' 2015 (bottom).
While I don't believe this 600 pitch snapshot supports Giles and Lidge as the exact same pitcher, it does show the effectiveness of each closers' slider. While Lidge's slider generated swings middle-in to right-handed hitters, Giles' slider works more swinging strikes across the plate. It will be interesting to see if Giles' slider can be a similar (or an even more effective) weapon to Lidge's premier breaking offering.
Ken Giles has plenty of expectation on him this season; with the Astros primed for another contending run, Giles will be called upon to lock down close games in high-leverage situations. Even with a reliable bullpen in front of him to get games to the ninth, Giles is still that one high-velocity arm in a bullpen that hasn't seen his fastball/breaking ball combo and early career dominance in quite some time.