For a while now #on #line I’ve been seeing Unnamed People saying how much easier life would be if only Billy Wagner was anchoring the bullpen and not Ken Giles. But folks I’m here to tell you that Ken Giles is basically Billy Wagner.
Step right inside this Waybach. Wagner was in the Astros’ bullpen from 1996 (I’m not counting his one appearance where he threw 0.1IP in 1995) until the end of the 2003 season. With the Astros Wagner saved 225 games, threw 504.1IP with a 2.53 ERA/1.04 WHIP. He struck out 12.4 batters per game over those eight seasons, with a 2.81 FIP, 5.9 hits/9, and a 3.63 K:BB ratio. He was very good.
Wagner also threw hard. FanGraphs’ pitch type data dates back to the beginning of the 2002 season, but in his final season in Houston – 2003 – Wagner averaged 97.9mph on his fastball, which he threw about 79% of the time. He’d mix in an 88mph slider with the other 20% and apparently threw a couple of curves and changeups.
This is where Ken Giles comes in. While obviously Giles has a ways to go in terms of longevity, his 2017 season compares favorably to Wagner: 2.54 ERA / 0.99 WHIP that is actually underperforming his 2.45 FIP. Giles has struck out 12.1 batters/9, a 4.00 K:BB ratio, and has allowed 5.9 hits/9 this season – precisely the same as Wagner’s eight seasons in Houston. Pitch-wise, Giles has thrown his 97.2mph (average) fastball 56.6% of the time to go with an 86.4mph slider, which he throws the other 43.4% of the time.
Where the disconnect comes in, I think, is that fans are waiting for Giles to turn back into April 2016 Giles, not appreciating him for what he’s done. When he blew the save over the weekend in Oakland, those were the 3rd and 4th runs he had allowed since the All-Star Break. Giles seems to dance in and out of trouble, but as long as he’s dancing out of it, it’s fine.
Where Wagner gets Giles is in two places:
*Wagner’s ERA+ is 171. Giles’ is 157. So Wagner was a better reliever relative to the league than Giles has been this season.
*Wagner’s got longevity. I guess I forgot – or wasn’t paying attention – to the part where Wagner posted a 2.03 ERA / 0.95 WHIP between 2004-2010 for the Phillies, Mets, Red Sox, and Braves with a 212 ERA+, 11.3 K/9, and a 4.61 K:BB ratio. So, yeah, Wagner should be in the conversation for the Hall of Fame. From 1969-2010 (his last year) Wagner posted the 6th-highest career fWAR among qualified relievers. His 24.1 fWAR is better than HOFers Dennis Eckersley and Bruce Sutter.
Wagner’s 11.92 K/9 is 4th among relievers in the same time span (behind Carlos Marmol, Rob Dibble, and…yes, Brad Lidge.) His 2.31 career ERA is tied for 9th among relievers. Saves are whatever you want them to be, but Wagner is one of five relievers with 400+ saves. Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith are HOFers. He’s 56 saves behind Lee Smith and just two behind John Franco, who probably deserves more consideration than he actually gets.
Billy Wagner was freaking good, y’all. And Ken Giles – again – needs to have this season seven more times in a row to be part of a larger conversation, but Ken Giles has been favorably dominant this year, even if your friends try to tell you otherwise.