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Reviewing Astros Trades, 2014-2018. Part IV, The Giles Trade

Ken Giles was one of the best closers in baseball when he was acquired by the Astros before the 2016 season. Was he worth the cost? Did the Phillies get fair value in return?

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports


This is part four of a series analyzing Astros trades from 2014-2018. For a review of the methodology and caveats go to Part I here.

This is a review of how the trades turned out, understanding that at the time the trades were made the teams involved used the best information available to maximize the chances of an advantageous transaction. But all trades are based on probabilities, and like any form of gambling, the actual outcomes may not be those desired. So this is not intended as a criticism of the trades at the time they happened, but just a review of how lady luck eventually blessed each trade in the end.

In this article we will discuss the trade that brought to Houston their presumptive, and eventually controversial closer, Ken Giles.

The Trade

December 12, 2015

P. Mark Appel, P. Harold Arauz, P. Tom Eshelman, P. Brett Oberholzer, P. Vince Velasquez to Philadelphia for P. Ken Giles and IF. Jonathon Arauz


Sound and fury signifying nothing.” This looked like a blockbuster trade for both teams at the time. As Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs said, “The Astros land dominant Giles for potentially dominant Velasquez.” But no doubt, in retrospect, both teams have been disappointed by their get from this deal.

Let’s start with Philadelphia.

Mark Appel was a Number 1 overall pick for the Astros, but one whose stock had already fallen by the time of this trade. Yet even by then, most observers would have been surprised to find that he would retire before ever throwing even one pitch in the major leagues. The draft of Appel might qualify as the worst #1 pick in baseball history, but the Astros did well to unload him while he still had some value.

Harold Arauz sipped AAA for the first time last year at age 23. He had a 4.59 ERA in AA in 131 innings. He would not be considered a likely contender to be among the Astros prospects to crack the big league roster this year, or in the near future. He now pitches in the St. Louis organization.

Tom Eshelman was a more highly rated prospect at the time of the trade, drafted 46th overall in 2015, and in 2017 he looked like he was heading to the big leagues, posting a 2.13 ERA in eighteen AAA starts. In 2018, at age 24, in what was his estimated time of arrival, he was 2-13, with a 5.84 ERA in his second year in AAA. So far, another disappointment.

Brett Oberholtzer had been pitching on and off for the Astros since 2013, with a 3.94 ERA in 254 innings. He contributed 3.2 bWAR. He last saw action in the majors in 2016, splitting time with the Angels and Phillies for a -0.5 bWAR. The Phillies’ hope of getting a 5th starter out of Oberholtzer did not come to fruition.

And now for the big piece, as far as the Phillies were concerned; Vince Velasquez. The Astros drafted Velasquez 58th overall in 2010, and in 2015 he made his Astros debut at age 23, starting seven games, with a 4.37 ERA and 3.46 FIP. He looked like he was on track to be a 2nd or 3rd starter. Instead he has become a BOR starter, with a 4.63 ERA and a 4.20 FIP in 350 innings with the Phillies. There are a few signs of progress, for although his 2018 ERA of 4.85 seems high, his FIP and xFIP are more encouraging, at 3.75 and 4.12 respectively. Since joining the Phillies he has 4.0 bWAR. Although he may yet mature into a MOR starter, and he still has three more years of team control, Velasquez has not shown the “dominance” the Phillies had hoped for.

Now for the Astros side.

Ok. we’ll get Jonathan Arauz out of the way first. The 150 lb. Panamanian came to the Astros at age 17 and has popped up at the bottom of Astros Top 30 prospect reports. He got more attention this year in his age 19 season with A Quad Cities, hitting .299. But after his promotion to A+ Buies Creek he only hit .167 in 253 PA’s, so his projection is still very much a question.

And now for Ken Giles.

At the time of the trade, just for perspective, Jeff Sullivan called Giles “clearly one of the game’s best relievers,” and with five years of team control, to boot. Let’s check that out.

Ken Giles, Phillies vs. Post-Phillies

Giles ERA/rank FIP/rank xFIP/rank fWAR/rank K%/rank Siera/rank WPA/rank meltdowns
Giles ERA/rank FIP/rank xFIP/rank fWAR/rank K%/rank Siera/rank WPA/rank meltdowns
2014-2015 1.56/3rd 1.82/3rd 2.65/10th 3.8/7th 32.5/12th 2.32/12th 4.05/19th 10/4th
2016-2018 3.63/101st 2.76/13th 2.99/11th 4.1/16th 32.0/16th 2.70/11th 3.74/30th 21/77th

Indeed, with the Phillies he was third among qualifying relievers in ERA and FIP, and within or near the top 10 in almost every category. Sullivan was right!

Did he maintain that level with the Astros?

The more avid defenders of Giles during his Astros days tended to be the sabremetricians, and when you look at the advanced stats, the fall-off was not that great. He was still top 20 in most advanced stats with the Astros. During his days with the Phillies Giles outperformed his peripherals. With the Astros he under performed them. This is what his defenders always pointed towards.

But in the stat that ultimately matters, how many runs did you allow, Giles was not so good, 101st among relievers. For most of the almost three years with the Astros his critics kept saying, “he gives up too many runs.” His defenders would respond, “look at his FIP, it’s bound to get better soon.” But in 2018 things just kept getting worse...and worse...and worse.

And then there were the meltdowns. The kind found on the chart above, the ones in the playoffs, and the emotional ones. ( I will forego the mandatory gif of Giles punching himself) So despite the $32.8 million in value he produced in three years post-Phillies, in only one of those years did he produce positive bWAR ratings, and few were his defenders when he was sent away in July 2018.

Giles and David Paulino were traded for Roberto Osuna.

Grade: C

By the numbers the Phillies won the trade, although it might be more accurate to say they didn’t lose as badly. By bWAR, Velasquez contributed 4.0 and Giles only contributed 1.6. By fWAR Velasquez contributed 4.9, Giles 3.3. However WAR tends to discriminate against relievers.

On the other hand Velasquez wouldn’t have been able to contribute as much as he did on the Phillies if he had stayed on the Astros, especially in 2018. He could have been very useful in 2017, the year of the injured staff, but he too was injured most of that year. Also Giles filled a glaring need that Velasquez probably couldn’t have, even if Giles didn’t do so as well as some might have hoped. But even in down years for the Astros rotation, Velasquez would not have added much value to what they already had on hand.

Since Giles was traded one might add the value of Osuna to the Astros side of the Velasquez/Giles trade. But believe it or not, Fangraphs says the Astros lost that trade, projecting Giles to add 1 fWAR in 2019, Paulino 0.3, and Osuna 1.2.

If that seems unbelievable, Osuna was not quite the pitcher in 2018 that he was in his prior three years. From 2015-2017 his SIERA’s were 2.81, 2.87, 2.27 respectively. His SIERA in 2018 was 3.32. His K% in his pre-Astros years were 27.7%, 28.5%, and 33.3% respectively. In 2018 it was 21.3 %. His BB% also dropped however.

For the sake of argument let’s call the Osuna/Giles trade a tie in terms of wins added per year. If so Osuna gives the Astros one more year of team control than Giles, until 2022, which is how long Velasquez is under team control. If we use this year’s win projection as the best estimate for the future, Velasquez will add 1.5 wins this year, 4.5 before he reaches free agency. Osuna will add 1.2, or only 3.6 before free agency. But then, to get Osuna the Astros had to relinquish a former top prospect, Paulino. How he eventually blossoms will effect the valuation of this trade.

But really, the politics of Osuna aside, how many Astros fans would really rather have Giles than Osuna? Or Velasquez than Osuna?


Who won the Giles/Velasquez trade?

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  • 20%
    (81 votes)
  • 13%
    (54 votes)
  • 62%
    (241 votes)
  • 2%
    (10 votes)
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