WIth the latest bullpen implosion on Monday night, Phillies fans are getting restless, even more so than they are naturally. In a season with mixed expectations in which every win holds extreme value, the Phillies have already given away a number of wins in the late innings despite paying an exorbitant amount of money to not have to worry about such things.
That issue was magnified on Monday when high-paid closer Jonathan Papelbon was deemed unavailable due to three-straight days of use, leaving Jake Diekman to perform the closer duties. It did not go well.
Before Dan Uggla's ninth inning grand slam had landed deep in the left field bleachers, fans were calling for most of the bullpen to be replaced. Like a good backup quarterback, the most popular answer to all of the Phillies bullpen problems was Double-A reliever Ken Giles, who was busy striking out all three Richmond Flying Squirrels he faced while Uggla rounded the bases.
It's understandable. What most fans know about Giles is this: he throws 100-mph and has 14 strikeouts in six innings of relief work this season while cutting his walk rate in half from last year. He does sound like he has all the answers. But with prospects, there is so much more than the numbers.
Giles does throw upwards of 100-mph, which does make him a candidate for the back end of a major league bullpen. It doesn't, however, translate into automatic success, as baseball history has given us a litany of hard throwers who can't get outs.
There are two obstacles that Giles must overcome before he's ready to help the Phillies. The first is fastball command. The harder a pitcher throws, the more he can get away with inferior command, but he still has to have some. Before he can command his fastball within the strike zone, however, he has to find the strike zone, something Giles has struggled with over his professional career with a 5.6 BB/9 rate. He's off to a better start this season, but let's let him throw strikes for more than two weeks before we declare his control issues as all healed.
The second obstacle is the development of an off-speed pitch. No matter how much velocity a pitcher has, major league hitters will catch up if they don't have to keep something else in the back of their minds. The success of Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel are aided by their premium velocity, but neither would be where they are without a wipe out slider.
For Giles, that's a work in progress. The good news is that he shows the ability to throw a hard, power slider, he just doesn't do it often enough. As of the Arizona Fall League, it was still an inconsistent pitch, but its development would be the biggest step he could take towards major league success. If his slider becomes a consistent pitch, he could be called on at some point this season to help in the major leagues.
But we need to see it for more than five appearances. Giles has had stretches before where he threw strikes and was remarkably successful, only to lose that control soon thereafter and struggle. There's a reason, after all, that despite impressively high strikeout numbers, he has a 6.31 ERA in the Florida State League last year.
Giles does appear to be taking the proper steps towards success, but five appearances to start the season does not a pitcher make. If his improved control is sustainable and his slider becomes more consistent, they yes, he could help the Phillies bullpen this season, but we simply aren't there yet. Giles is not the answer right now, no matter how bad the Phillies bullpen is, and bringing him up to get shellacked wouldn't benefit anyone, most notably Giles.
He could, however, help in a few months if his progress is for real. Because of his pure ability, he is a potential answer to some of their problems, but he's not the savior, and he's no where near ready for the task. A few months of development can go a long way, but not nearly as far as the damage of being called up to early.