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One of the most difficult decisions in any draft or auction is to decide how hard to push for a closer. Do you try to push for one of the top-tier guys, or wait and hope you can find value with a late-round or low-dollar player. Personally, I try to find my top closer towards the bottom of the top 10, splitting the difference between the two strategies. That is where both of today’s subjects find themselves. We’ll be looking at two former top prospects—or, as much of a top prospect as a reliever can be—who have lived up to their promise for the early parts of their careers. It’s Cody Allen vs. Ken Giles.

Saves

  • Allen 2015: 34
  • Giles 2015: 15

Above all else, this is the category we’re all looking to hit on when we draft our relievers. Unfortunately, it is also one of the harder categories to predict, as so much of it relies on outside factors. Looking at last year’s totals, Giles was obviously hurt by placing behind Jonathan Papelbon on the depth chart for much of the year. If he had the job all year, the save total would obviously be much higher. Looking ahead to 2016, there are still question marks for the now-Astro. As we’ll get to a bit later, he doesn’t have a firm hold on the job in Houston. Allen, meanwhile, has held down the job for over a year now, and could be poised to breakout with a 40-save season any year now. Both players appear to be on contending rosters, though the Astros are a more unanimous choice to contend this season. To Allen’s credit, the Indians are a team that is built around pitching, which could lead to more close final scores, and thus more save chances. That’s far from a guarantee, but it’s worth noting in a contest this close. It’s that, combined with the lack of an assured full-time closing for Giles that gives Allen the edge despite the former likely playing for a better team. Advantage: Allen, slightly

Strikeouts

  • Allen 2015: 99
  • Giles 2015: 87

As those totals from last season suggest, both of these pitchers are high strikeout arms. In terms of K/9, both are relatively safe bets to finish above 11.0. Giles saw a bit of a decline from his short stint in 2014, but he still finished with 11.2 K/9. Allen, meanwhile, watched his K/9 climb all the way up to 12.9 in 2015, though his swinging strike rate didn’t see any meaningful increase. Innings could be a big difference maker in a category like this, but not in this case as both guys figure to be around 70-inning pitchers in 2016. Overall, it should end up being another close matchup. However, while both hit the zone at roughly the same rate, Allen induces more swinging strikes and has shown the ability to compile strikeouts at a higher rate. That’s enough to give him the edge here. Advantage: Allen

ERA

  • Allen 2015: 2.99
  • Giles 2015: 1.80

Allen has an impressive track record over his four-year career, with a 2.64 career ERA and marks under 3.00 in each of his three full seasons. As impressive as that may be, Giles blows him away, albeit in a smaller sample. In the latter’s season-and-a-half of work, he has a career 1.54 ERA. Looking just at 2015, Allen actually finished the year with a better FIP. However, that was aided by a reduced home run rate that looks poised to rise back towards the mean based on his fly ball tendencies and past rates. Giles has also benefited from low home-run rates despite pitching in a hitter-friendly home park, but he also allows a more balanced batted ball profile. He also has an advantage in DRA while cFIP has them essentially equal over the last two seasons. This is a hard stat to predict for a position that relies on such small samples. With that being said, Giles has built a small track record of success here, and the peripherals should give him a slight edge. Advantage: Giles, slightly

WHIP

  • Allen 2015: 1.17
  • Giles 2015: 1.20

This was an extremely close battle last season, and figures to be just as close this year. In fact, PECOTA has them both projected for 1.20 marks in 2016. Giles should be the beneficiary of better defense behind him, giving him a bit of an edge in hits allowed. Cleveland’s infield will benefit from a full season of Francisco Lindor, but that doesn’t help Allen as much given his paltry 37 percent career ground ball rate. The Indians’ outfield defense hasn’t been a help to their pitchers over the last few years, and doesn’t look poised to be all that much better in 2016. Giles also looks to have a slight advantage in the other component of WHIP. The two tied in BB/9 last season, and will probably finish around the same level again in 2016. Their zone rate is essentially tied over their respective careers, though Giles does get more swings on pitches out of the zone. Giles has the slightest of advantage in both components of WHIP, giving him a slight overall edge. Advantage: Giles, slightly

Job Security
I alluded to this before, but Giles has some competition for the closer job in Houston. After the Astros gave up a hefty package of young players for the young reliever over the offseason, Luke Gregerson expressed his opinion that he deserves to keep the job after a solid 2015. Gregerson is battling some injury issues early in spring, and while he should be ready for Opening Day, that still gives Giles the inside track to open the year as the closer. However, Houston could be more motivated to give Gregerson some chances if Giles has a rough stretch in the first couple months of the season. Allen, on the other hand, has no competition for the closer job in Cleveland. Bryan Shaw and Zach McAllister are fine, but do not represent a real threat to take over the ninth inning. Allen is an easy call here. Advantage: Allen

Injury Risk
This is the part where I point out that all pitchers are something of an injury risk. With that said, neither of these guys figure to be a bigger risk than any other pitcher. Allen has had Tommy John surgery earlier in his career, but that was way back in 2008 when he was still in college. Giles, meanwhile, battled some oblique issues back in 2013 when he was still in the minors, but that hasn’t affected him since. Tommy John is scarier than an oblique injury, but the latter was more recent. I’m calling this a push. Push

Ceiling
Both Allen and Giles are relatively young, with the former firmly in his prime entering his age-27 season and the latter entering his age-25 season. As such, both could presumably have their career years ahead of them. Allen is held back a bit by his moderate walk issues. Although he’s never been a killer in this area, he’s also never gotten his BB/9 under 3.0. Giles, meanwhile, did show off impressive control in the small sample that was 2014, and while it’s not a given we’ll see that over a full season, the potential is certainly there. There’s a real chance that he can strike out 12 batters per nine while walking just two and combining that with an ERA under 2.00. If that is combined with holding down the closer role for the potential best team in the American League, that’s a monstrous ceiling that can only be matched by a handful of pitchers in the game. Both have strong ceilings, but Giles’ is a bit higher. Advantage: Giles

Overall
In the end, these two came out of this battle tied 3-3. It makes sense given that they are going within 10 picks of each other on both Fantasy Pros and NFBC. On the one hand, Giles has the higher ceiling and when all else is even I’d typically go with that at most positions. However, this isn’t most positions. Saves matter so much for fantasy relievers, and having a player who is a safer bet to hold the job all year matters a ton. If Gregerson didn’t exist, I’d probably give this matchup to Giles. He does exist, though, and Allen’s safety and higher strikeout rate get the win today.

And the winner is….Cody Allen

Thank you for reading

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