The Phillies haven't had much go well for them this season, but two bullpen arms might be saving their future.
The Phillies are 58-72, 17.5 games behind the suddenly-surging Washington Nationals in the NL East, and have the fourth-worst run differential in baseball at -77. It's safe to say that David Montgomery and Ruben Amaro Jr. were expecting more from a $180 million payroll. However, while the overpriced veterans have underperformed, two of the cheapest players on the roster are proving to be absolute steals.
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Diekman bounced around in the minors for five years before finally getting a shot in the majors in 2012. He actually began as a starter before moving to a relief role for the 2009 season. After posting a 3.95 ERA and 3.53 FIP as a rookie, Diekman took a big step forward in 2013, putting up a 2.58/2.50 while slashing his walk rate from 6.59 per 9 innings to 3.76. This year, he's improved even more, with the seventh-highest strikeout rate among pitchers with at least 50 innings (and he has the second-most innings of the top seven). His fastball, which Brooks Baseball classifies as a sinker, has come in at an average of 97.62 MPH, well above his 96.31 mark the previous two seasons. The added speed is resulting in a lot of swings and misses, as you can see below.
It's not just the speed that's missing bats: his slider is devastating down and in to righties and down and away from lefties.
He has endurance for a hard-throwing reliever, too, having gone more than three outs in ten separate outings. The 60 innings he's thrown this year are in line with his past numbers if you include stints in the minors, so it's a positive that the added velocity isn't causing any breakdowns (yet). At 27, he might be too old to contribute by the time the Phillies manage to climb their way out of the hole they're currently in, but is certainly a valuable asset nonetheless.
A 4.9 K/BB ratio in the majors, 56 innings pitched across three levels of baseball, and a 1.62 FIP? Sounds like dominance to me. Ken Giles has been nothing but excellent since his call-up and debut back on June 12. His 43 FIP- puts him seventh in the majors among pitchers with at least 30 innings, in the company of star relievers like Aroldis Chapman (first, with an insane 22) and Craig Kimbrel (fifth, 42). He has two plus pitches (and only two pitches total), a fastball that's averaging 97.56 MPH and topped out at 101 and a slider that opponents are only slugging 0.163 against. According to FanGraphs' linear weights per pitch values, it's the twentieth-best slider in the majors. Not that impressive, but when you consider Giles is only 23 and ahead of names like Andrew Miller, Masahiro Tanaka, and Yu Darvish, his position gains some credence. That slider has produced moments like this Robinson Cano whiff:
Being able to come up with pitches like that will be essential for Giles if he is to eventually take up the closer mantle from another righty with a devastating breaking pitch in Jonathan Papelbon. Although, with the Phillies' strange behavior at the trade deadline and penchant for old players, maybe Giles will be traded away for Barry Zito or something and Papelbon will stay on another five years. (This has been your weekly fix of "Bash the Phillies Personnel Decisions.")
Even with the, shall we say, questionable decisions made by Ruben Amaro Jr. over the last few years, the Phillies have still managed to find and keep themselves a few decent prospects. Giles and Diekman absolutely have the potential to form a solid eighth-ninth combo for years to come.
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