For some reason, White Christmas' "What do you do with a General when he stops being a General" keeps going through my mind while planning this post. He's got the skills to be a General, obviously. Being a General is what he's good at. It's who he is. Nothing has fundamentally changed that would disqualify him from Generalizing (like that?). Sure, age, I guess. But that's really it.
So what the heck do you do with an elite relief pitcher who has stopped being an elite relief pitcher? More specifically - one who's skills haven't changed, who is doing all the same things that made him previously dominant, and yet he has given up as many runs as innings pitched?
I'm telling you, it's weird.
What if I told you that the Astros had a reliever who was striking out almost a third of the batters he's faced? And what if I told you that same reliever was walking batters at just under 8%...about half a percent fewer walks than last season? What if I told you that his fastball has reached over 99 mph this season, and that he throws a crippling slider that comes in at 89 mph? What if I told you his xFIP (expected FIP) was 3.02?
Would you think that that is one darned fantastic relief pitcher? I sure would. One of the best in professional baseball, I'd claim.
Except this is Ken Giles the Astros non-closing relief pitcher.
Forget his 9.00 ERA for a second. Put it completely out of your mind.
What if I told you a pitcher had a BABIP of .400, but that his career rate prior to this season was.280? What if I told you his HR/FB rate is 40% compared to a previous career rate of 3%.
Would you say, "That is one darned unlucky reliever?"
Despite everybody's anger, data tells us that Ken Giles is pitching exactly like he has during the past two seasons when he was unhittable, in terms of velocity, pitch selection, strikeouts, walks, and pretty much everything. Unfortunately, he's giving up home runs and hits at video game rates.
There are two possibilities, as I see it. Either he's the most unlucky pitcher in all of baseball this year (a very real possibility, despite the fans' strong desire to place BLAME for his awful start, which I think is short-sighted and stupid). The other possibility is that Ken Giles is somehow tipping his pitches. I think the truth lies somehow in a combination of both. Clearly, right now batters have Giles' number. That doesn't often happen by accident. Either the pitcher has changed something that has made his stuff less effective (and Giles hasn't done that), or the batters know what's coming.
Suggestion: Be Patient. Giles has pitched like one of the best relievers in the game during 2016. The results aren't there, so that makes the previous seem like a dubious statement to some of you. But numbers don't lie. He's been awesome. And also awful. The question is why. Awful luck and tipping pitches - that's my guess.