The Giles Dilemma
By Larry Dierker
The other night at Minute Maid Park, Ken Giles blew a save and then blew his top, dropping an f-bomb on manager A. J. Hinch as he left the mound. The knee-jerk reaction of fans on the post-game talk show was “get rid of him.” I hate that expression. It makes me think of trash and nobody is trash.
Giles saved eleven games this year and also stunk up the place one time too many. So now he’s in Fresno where, if he has the right attitude, he can find a way to return to the major leagues again – probably not for the Astros and especially as long as Hinch is the manager.
Occasionally, a guy who is a little older pulls his own rip-cord and the chute doesn’t open. That happened to Shawn Chacon ten years ago when he threw General Manager Ed Wade to the floor in the Astros clubhouse. The Astros suspended him then released him the next day. He didn’t have enough left in the tank find another ride.
A few years before that, the Astros released a relatively young player with good tools after his wife filed abuse charges against him. He got back in her good graces and charges were dropped. The player signed with another team and played in the major leagues for many more years. And the Astros didn’t get anything for him.
The Lesson: Don’t pull the trigger in anger.
Ken Giles still has value. The Astros gave up a lot to get him from the Phillies, especially after he had two great years as a set-up man. With a fastball that sometimes hits triple digits and a paralyzing ninety mile an hour slider, he appeared to be the last piece of the Astros rebuilding puzzle. At first, he was true to form. His slider reminded me of Brad Lidge’s – ninety mph, straight down – the kind of pitch that is so wicked that the pitcher could tell the hitter it was coming, and the hitter still couldn’t hit it. The Astros gave up a ton of pitching talent to get him and it looked like a good deal at first. Now, only one of those pitchers is playing for the Phillies, so it will never go down as a bad deal.
Giles is only twenty-seven years old and he could still become a good major league pitcher, maybe even a closer. The challenge for G. M. Jeff Luhnow and his minor league pitching coaches is to help Giles find his way home. When he got to Houston, he had the slider. He lost it about halfway through his first year. I’m sure the team has been trying to help him get it back, and I still see signs of it occasionally. He still has the power arm, but without the slider, he’s an ordinary pitcher at best.
Another solution to his problem could be a different grip on his fastball. At this juncture, it averages ninety-seven or eight mph. With movement, it would be devastating. Without movement, it is practically batting practice when thrown down the middle. So, actually, there are three ways for him to get back to the major leagues with some team. Find the missing slider, get some movement on the fastball, or get better control of it. Ninety mph on the corner, even without movement, is tough to hit.
The larger problem is in the cockpit. This is not the first time he has lost more than the slider. In Philadelphia, he wasn’t the man. That could be all it takes to get him going again. Release the pressure. Don’t use him as your closer. The ninth inning is critical and pitchers, who can consistently put a zero on the board and a win in the column, make a lot of money. Blowing it in the ninth is about the most difficult thing in baseball to overcome mentally. So, the Astros will take a deep breath and relax. The clubhouse will be a friendlier place and Hector Rondon will become a reliable closer. That’s the best thing that can happen to the team. The rose-colored glasses view is even brighter. Giles finds himself in Fresno and overcomes his problems.
At least the Astros didn’t make a knee-jerk move. Giles still has plenty of time to become a major league pitcher again. If he gets his act together, the Astros can trade him. There were no takers for Shawn Chacon. They would be lined up to get a new and improved Ken Giles.