J.A. HAPP probably isn't the first person you think of when you watch Ken Giles hit 100 miles per hour on the radar gun. But the image is a good place to start if you really want to grasp the airtight logic that is motivating the Phillies' decision to dangle their young fire-balling closer on the trade market.
For all the dominance that Giles has displayed over the last two seasons, he is not as valuable as a career back-of-the-rotation starter who has never eclipsed 200 innings in a season.
That's not me talking. That's the market. Happ might not have the stuff to become one of the best players at his position, but markets don't care much for superlatives, and it is difficult to quibble with the verdict it rendered in the form of a three-year, $36 million contract with the Blue Jays. That's $11 million more than Joakim Soria received over the same length from the Royals. In other words, a team looking for a playoff-caliber closer this offseason could find one for $11 million less than a team looking for a playoff-caliber No. 4 or No. 5 starter.
Seeing as though the Phillies will need to add several starters before they can consider themselves playoff contenders, it makes all the sense in the world to see if they can parlay Giles into a player or two with the potential to establish themselves as fixtures in the rotation.
Soria has not been as dominant as Giles the last two seasons, but he has been one of the most dependable late-inning relievers in the game. In 67 2/3 innings for the Tigers and Pirates last year, the veteran closer posted a 2.53 ERA (156 ERA+) while average 8.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, and 1.1 HR/9. Again, Giles was on another level: his 221 ERA+ suggests he was 121 percent better than league average (the more conventional metrics: 1.80 ERA, 11.2 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 0.3 HR/9 and 15 saves in 70 innings). But as impressive as those numbers are, the sport would need to experience a dramatic paradaigm shift in closer usage for those numbers to translate into significantly more value than an option like Soria could provide. Keep in Giles was charged with five blown while pitching in 32 save/hold situations and was 15-for-17 in end-of-game save opportunities, while Soria was charged with six blown saves in 41 save/hold situations and was 20-for-23 in end-of-game save opportunities. Given the current conventional wisdom, a save opportunity is where a team is going to feel the vast majority of a closer's impact (tie games at home being the other situation). So, in real terms, Soria did his job just as effectively last year.
Given the current conventional wisdom, a save opportunity is where a team is going to feel the vast majority of a closer's impact (tie games at home being the other situation). So, in real terms, Soria did his job just as effectively last year.
Fact is, Giles' value pales in comparison to that which the Phillies would realize if they were able to exchange him for a pitcher(s) who ended up establishing himself as a fixture in the rotation. We're not suggesting the Phillies are looking to parlay his upside into the next J.A. Happ, but the fact that the market values a guy like Happ even more than a guy like Yankees closer Andrew Miller ($36 million over four years last offseason) speaks volumes about the proper strategy for rebuilding a roster.
Happ is coming off a solid season in which he logged a career-high 172 innings and was dynamite down the stretch for the Pirates, but he has spent most of his career as a back-of-the-rotation or spot starter. That's a pretty good indication of how difficult it is to build a rotation. A general manager can build a bullpen much easier, so he will end up spending a lot less money to replace a reliever like Giles than he will to find a starter capable of providing 150-200 innings of league-average pitching.
There are a number of other justifications for dealing Giles with the hope of acquiring a prospect or two who has/have the potential to contribute more regularly than a reliever who last season logged just 70 innings (a healthy total with regard to relief pitching, but a pittance in terms of total impact on a team's season).
For one, pitchers who throw 100 miles per hour tend not to do it forever. Predicting injuries is impossible, but relievers are a volatile bunch, both in terms of health and production. Take South Jersey native Andrew Bailey, who posted a 2.07 ERA with 75 saves for Oakland between the ages of 25-27. The A's traded him to the Red Sox before the 2012 season, and he's logged just 52 innings since. That deal landed them Josh Reddick, who has averaged 19 home runs, 523 plate appearances and a .754 OPS (109 OPS+) in the four seasons since.
Building a roster is all about maximizing assets. Giles' value could climb even higher with every save that he logs. Or it could collapse with each mile of velocity that he loses. Bottom line is, the Phillies have more pressing needs than an elite closer. If another team is willing to part with a player or two who will help Matt Klentak fill those needs, he shouldn't hesitate to make it happen.