The Ken Giles Trade Improved the Phillies for the 2016 Season

Ken Giles is really really good, he might even be underrated nationally.  He is also the crux of some arguments about the strategy of the Phillies and their aims and goals for the 2016 season.  For some, the trade was part of a larger set of moves that were tanking, or intentionally making the team less competitive for the 2016 season.  Except the Giles trade potentially makes the Phillies better for the current season.  This leads to another interesting question, why would the Astros make this trade if the Phillies got better now, because clearly they would have given up value in this deal, except this trade makes the Astros better now too.

The center of this mutual improvement is the idea of what is being upgraded in a deal.  So let’s start with the Phillies’ side of the deal.  They get an upgrade on one rotation spot and rotation depth, while downgrading in the bullpen.  Before the trade, the Phillies’ favorite for the #5 starter job was probably Adam Morgan, with the emergency starter likely David Buchanan or Alec Asher.  After the trade, Vincent Velasquez moves into the rotation, Brett Oberholtzer likely moves to the bullpen and/or emergency starter, and Adam Morgan is now your 6th starter sitting in AAA.  Vincent Velasquez is over two years younger than Adam Morgan, and outperformed him during their time as starters.  Most projections have Velasquez somewhere in the 2+ win range if he were to be in the rotation all year, a 1+ win upgrade on Morgan.  Meanwhile, Adam Morgan over David Buchanan based on last year’s performance, is about 1 in their limited action (meanwhile everyone else has also been bumped down he chain).

Meanwhile because of reliever chaining (the process by which everyone moves up or down in the bullpen), Giles is not replaced by David Hernandez, instead his value is replaced by the last man in the bullpen, in this case lets call him Brett Oberholtzer.  Now, Oberholtzer is unlikely to be the worst man in the bullpen, but he could be a 0.5 win reliever, and if it is not him, the Phillies should be able to carve out a replacement level reliever.  This makes Giles a 2 win upgrade by WAR, or about what the pitching difference is.  The big difference for the Phillies is upside, as Giles is capped in his innings due to his role making much beyond a 2 win season hard to count on.  Meanwhile Velasquez could easily eclipse that by putting his stuff to success on the mound.  We can talk leverage here too, but while the Phillies lose a large amount of value in high leverage situations, the upgrade in starting pitching also allows for more leverage situations overall.  The worse the starting pitching is, the less value Giles has to the team he is on.

Meanwhile for the Astros, Velasquez was fairly expendable as he did not appear to be a favorite for one of their rotation spots.  This means that the Astros’ downgrade is a zero as opposed to Velasquez in the bullpen or the opportunity cost of a different trade return.  Meanwhile, due to chaining, Giles replaces the worse reliever in the Astros bullpen (likely a player close to replacement level) and is worth close to a 2 win upgrade for the Astros on WAR alone.  Unlike the Phillies who lack in leverage situations, the Astros are positioned to generate a large amount of high leverage situations and can gain the extra value from only deploying Giles during times when his value is needed.  Their hope is to stave off a repeat of the 2015 playoffs.

By making the Ken Giles trade, the Phillies improved their team for both 2016 and the future.  While it makes one facet of the game, the bullpen, much weaker it does increase the overall competitiveness of the team for the 2016 season.  If the goal is to lose as many games as possible, the Ken Giles trade moved the Phillies farther away from that goal.

Image by Baseball Betsy

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman
Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.


  1. GDub

    So I’ve always been skeptical of this trade. I would agree that Giles wasn’t helping us in the near future and the return is at least intriguing but if the team is really committed to winning in 2017-2018 why didn’t they view Giles as we view Franco, Nola, or Herrera as a pieces of the future? He’s 25.

    At his age and talent level I didn’t see why we wouldn’t want an elite proven closer when our core prospects come of age. I see we possibly have minor league prospects who could fill that role like Cordero or Tirado and if they truly believe these guys can fill that role then I understand why the move was made but it just seems risky to me to hope on minor league players when you already had a young talented closer who was major league proven.

    • Matt Winkelman

      You do the deal because Velasquez as a starting pitcher is as core a piece as those guys and you get 4 more pieces. What is the point of a shutdown closer when you only have two starting pitchers

    • Nick M

      Giles was valued differently than Nola and Franco because he is a closer and not a starting pitcher or starting middle of the lineup hitter. I forget who, but someone wrote a great article about free agents. JA Happ (a 4th or 5th stsarter) got the same money as the top closer on the market (Soria) So if you need a closer in 2017 or 2018, they are easier to find (and afford) than a #2 or #3 starter (which is Velasquez’s upside) PLUS you get other young players in the deal. Everyone talks about Appel but the real lottery ticket could wind up being Eschelman. He is really an unknown. He can be Joe Roa or he could be Mark Buehrle (I know…wishful thinking and unlikely…but we really don’t know how his control and stuff will play professionally) But again, like Matt has pointed out, even if it is Giles for Velasquez and Oberholtzer straight up, it could still be a good deal.

      • And in the baseball hierarchy of relievers, for those who fully buy into the closer mystique, Giles is only a guy who has shown that he likely can be a closer. He was a closer only after we traded Papelbon in a totally zero pressure part of the season for the worst team in baseball. It isn’t even clear that he will be Houston’s closer this season. He certainly is by no means an established shut-down closer. To even begin to earn the status from those who believe pitching the 9th inning is very different and requires a guy with nerves of steel, he’s going to have to close successfully for a contender during the guts of a pennant race or quest for the last wild card spot. He may handle the pressure superbly (I believe coming into the game in the 7th or 8th inning with 2 or 3 guys on base is a lot more pressure than starting the 9th inning with a 1-2 run lead and going for the save, but I’m not bought into closer mystique), but he hasn’t experienced anything as a ‘closer’ yet which can even loosely be defined as a high pressure situation.

  2. B-dog

    Being a healthy 25 year old starter with AAA experience, Appel’s conspicuous absence from this discussion just makes Matt seem down on him. Regardless of his feelings about him, Appel is likely to pitch a significant number of innings for the Phillies in 2016.

    I suspect Houston’s velocity obsession led Appel to drop the two-seamer he relied upon at Stanford and reversing that switch could produce immediate results. Psychological hangups surrounding Appel’s contract disputes with his hometown team also likely contributed to his mediocrity, so he’s as much a change of scenery candidate as you’ll ever see. Even if Oberholtzer, Asher and Morgan start before Appel, none are as likely to remain in the rotation.

  3. I don’t think Appel’s major problem is that he lost FB movement in going to the 4-seamer to increase velocity. His strikeout rate was over 8 K/9 IP last season. My biggest concern is that as he has moved up the Houston organization, his BB-rate has increased and last season was an unacceptable 3.7 BB/9. In his first ST start today, he walked 4. I won’t over-react to his first ST start, because he’s getting into shape and likely trying a different approach to pitching than what the Astros wanted him to do. But he is going to need better control and command of his pitches if he is going to be successful. Those can be the most difficult things for a young pitcher to learn, meaning Appel still needs significant development to be MLB ready.

    • Kurdt Kobeyn

      the amount of remaining development time that Appel needs is the one that concerns me. Appel is 2-3 years older that most of Phils top pitching prospects. Appel is also older than VV so 2016 will be key for Appel, otherwise, he needs to embace the thought that bullpen will be his landing spot.

  4. JustBob

    I understand why the Phils made this trade including turning a single relief asset into multiple potential starting pitching prospects.

    Just strikes me as a real stretch to say it makes the Phils a better team in 2016 especially as Hernandez and the Phils aren’t able to hold and convert saves nearly as well as they did in the 8th & 9th innings last year.

  5. allentown1

    The Phillies may not convert as high a percentage of their 8th inning leads as they did last season, but I think they will have more 8th inning leads, because they won’t have as many awful starting pitchers (assuming we don’t get snared by injuries to our pitchers). I think people over-emphasize the value of closers simply because it is more traumatic to lose a game in the ninth inning when it’s almost in the bag, but a game can equally well be lost in any inning and we often had lost games last year prior to reaching the third inning. It may be just personal preference, but I dislike the early losses more than the ninth inning losses. When you lose in the 9th inning, at least you got to enjoy 8 innings.