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.
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