Small samples dominate April story lines. Whether a player is off to a fast or slow start, we're prone to react to the data in front of us, even when it isn't wise. One player who has struggled to start 2016 is Ken Giles, albeit in only 5.2 innings.
When the Astros acquired Giles during the Winter Meetings, many assumed he would be the closer for Houston, but Luke Gregerson has held onto his role so far. Gregerson has done his part to justify that decision. In five innings, he has yet to allow a run, has struck out four, and only allowed one hit.
The numbers for Giles are not as agreeable as those, however, as he's allowed five runs in 5.2 innings - he only allowed 14 all of last season. Giles has also allowed three home runs this year, after only allowing two in 2015. Let's examine some of the possible explanations for his struggles and how they can be fixed.
One possible explanation is Giles' velocity. While there isn't a huge dip, there has been a decrease in velocity nonetheless.
Since Giles made his debut in 2014, on average, he has lost a full mph on his fastball (97.9 to 96.9), as well as his slider (87.4 to 86.2). While one mph may not be a huge cause for concern, one mph can be the difference between the ball hitting the bat or missing it. However, in each of his first two seasons, Giles has gained velocity on his fastball and slider as the season went on. Overall, he gains about one mph as the season advances, so velocity-wise, Giles is still following his track record.
Another possible explanation for the struggles of Ken Giles is his usage of his fastball, or rather lack thereof.
Giles has always used his fastball a majority of the time, except to start 2016. In his first six games, Giles has used his slider 56 percent of the time, which is a big deviation from his normal mix. While it's possible he hasn't had control of his fastball, Giles has walked only one batter. Confidence in the pitch can also be a huge factor. As stated above, since his debut, Giles has lost a mph, on average, on his fastball, which can affect a player's willingness to use it as frequently. According to Brooks Baseball, batters are hitting .455 on his fastball and only .077 on his slider. Even the whiff percentage on his fastball has gone down from 9.73 in 2015 to 6.45 to start 2016.
When reading that, you're probably asking yourself, "if hitters are hitting .455 on his fastball, why should he throw it more?" The answer is because the way Giles is using his pitches now, he is using his slider to set up his fastball, when in fact, he should be doing the opposite. That mix has worked in his first two seasons and allowed Giles to be as successful as he has been to this point.
Overall, the Astros should not be too concerned with the struggles of Ken Giles to start 2016. A change in how often and how effective he mixes his fastball and slider together will bring him back to his effective ways and give the Astros a formidable 8th and 9th inning combination of Luke Gregerson and Ken Giles
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Carl Triano is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score.