After being touted by many as the #1 pitching prospect in baseball, Lucas Giolito finally got his chance on the big stage Tuesday night in front of an electric Washington crowd. Giolito had been struggling a bit in AA, but after a successful month of June, he was given the ball against the Mets on a rainy evening. Despite the baseball gods allowing him to throw just 45 pitches across the outing, we got a good impression of what we can expect as the 6’6″ right-hander finds his way in the MLB. Here is Lucas Giolito’s GIF Breakdown of his MLB Debut in 9 HD GIFs.
As always, let’s first look at the strikezone plot from the evening:
You’ll quickly notice that Giolito’s Fastball command was a bit off. With such a long frame, Giolito’s success should lie in shooting knees all evening long, creating a sharp downward plane with his heaters that will lead to plenty of groundballs. However, he failed to get into a groove with his Four-Seamer and often opened up a bit too early, letting the ball fly high and arm-side. On the plus side, he showed the ability to keep his Curveball low, and while we barely got a glimpse of his Changeup, he did execute one of his three very well down in the zone. There’s improvement to made with his command, though it’s not far from reach.
Now for the fun stuff. Let’s dive into each pitch of Giolito’s repertoire with some GIFs:
At first glance, there isn’t much to get excited about with Giolito’s Fastball. The pitch averaged just under 95 mph and came in without a touch of horizontal ride. Take a look at his first strike of the game to Curtis Granderson and you’ll understand right away:
However, Lucas has a luxury that can turn his Fastball into a strong asset: his enormous 6’6″ frame. This monstrous build gives him a major advantage him in two areas. First, despite registering in the mid 90s, Giolito’s lanky frame and long extension on release allows him to deliver the ball closer to home plate than the average pitcher. This means his perceived velocity is a tick or two above what is being flashed on radar guns. Asdrubal Cabrera tried catching up to this 96 mph heater in the first inning, but the ball jumped on him sooner than expected, and became Giolito’s first career strikeout victim:
Additionally, with his long reach and over-the-top delivery, Giolito is able to deliver Fastballs on a downward plane. This means that pitches located low in the zone enter the strikezone on a sharp tilt heading toward dirt. This should make it difficult for batters to get lift on the ball, and reduce the amount of pitches hit with authority. When mixing this natural drop with a Two-Seamer, he can make it very tough for batters to square up pitches and generate quick outs with weak contact. He did so against Neil Walker, inducing him to hit a lazy flyball to left on one of his few Two-Seamers of the game:
However, if Giolito struggles to keep the ball down, this advantage disappears, and Lucas flashed many moments where he looked flat-out lost with his Fastball. For example, he walked Yoenis Cespedes on four pitches to lead off the fourth where he was clearly struggling to find the plate:
The most important foundation for success with any pitcher is Fastball command. This was a known issue for Giolito before his debut and unfortunately there is still work to be done. It’s possible jitters affected his locations, though I wouldn’t trust Giolito to display excellent Fastball command in his next start against the Reds. Furthermore, his Two-Seamer looks to be an effective option, especially if he’s flexing shaky command with his Four-Seamer, and we may see increased usage over the weekend.
Giolito’s Curveball is the pitch that got many people excited about the prospect, and it didn’t disappoint. While there wasn’t a sharp, tight break that we’re used to from hard throwing prospects (i.e. Jameson Taillon), it had enormous depth that created difficult at-bats for Mets hitters, similar to Barry Zito’s over a decade ago. He used it in all situations, such as gaining a strike while ahead in the count:
And turning the count in his favor:
The massive vertical drop on Giolito’s hooks are a sight to behold. The first pitch started at James Loney’s head before falling when within the strikezone, while Neil Walker never could have anticipated a pitch beginning at the Letters to end in the dirt. And even when batters made contact with the pitch, it often generated an awkward swing that produced an out (or two!):
With the questions of consistency swirling around his Fastball, Giolito needs this pitch to power him through starts. It looks just as good as advertised, and you can bet he will be relying on it heavily through future outings, especially as a putaway pitch to send batters back to the dugout.
Giolito was most likely saving his Changeup for deeper in the game, and since the rain cut his start short to just 45 pitches, we only got a few glimpses of what it can do. Of the three that he threw, this first pitch Changeup to Neil Walker was executed perfectly to get ahead 0-1:
It’s unclear if we’ll see more of the above pitch, or more of the two that missed their spots (despite one being called a questionable strike). There is potential for it to be a major asset – especially playing off a Four-Seam Fastball that can create added deception – though the jury is still out after this start alone.
Final Line – 4.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 Hit, 2 BBs, 1 K. 8/14 First Pitch Strikes, 64.4% strikes
There are encouraging elements from this start that suggest Lucas Giolito will make a positive impact this season for the Nationals, while there are still a few question marks that make me a little concerned for the 21-year-old. His Fastball command is the biggest area for improvement, as playing his secondary pitches off strikes with his Fastball is the strongest path for his success. He struggled to keep the ball down in the zone with his heater, and he will not be able to truly express his upside until he’s able to hit low spots consistently. His Curveball is the real deal, acting more like a right-handed version of the classic Barry Zito hook than a tight sharp break. His bender alone will make him a threat to rack up strikeouts on any given night. Giolito’s Changeup has potential to be a factor in his repertoire, though it’s tough to assess its impact from a shortened start. It’s uncertain how long he’ll remain in the majors – only his next start against the Reds is definite – but if he were expected to stay through September, I’d pin him right around #50 on The List for the rest of the season.
To end our Breakdowns, we like to feature a GIF that encapsulates the pitcher at hand. Take a look at Giolito throwing an excellent first pitch Curveball that falls in for a strike against James Loney: