“There is no such thing as a pitching prospect”—TINSTAPP—has been the label Lucas Giolito has been wearing since he made his major league debut for the Washington Nationals in 2016. The Nationals drafted him in the first round in 2012, and a month after signing, he had Tommy John surgery.
He returned to game action the following summer and wowed scouts with his 60-grade fastball and 70-grade curveball. When he made his major league debut for the Nationals in June 2016 against the Mets, he went four shutout innings with a strikeout, but his debut was cut short due to rain. His season went downhill from there, mainly due to a case of homeritis and walk problem. To shore up their outfield for the future, the Nationals traded Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning to the White Sox for Adam Eaton. Flash forward to last year, Giolito was in the White Sox rotation the entire year and led the American league with 90 walks 118 earned runs and was ninth in American league with 27 home runs allowed. I was pretty high on Giolito going into last year, but I was burned so badly that he was not on my draft radar this year. The last couple of games he has pitched, however, he has sucked me back in. Once I dug in deeper, I found some pretty interesting changes.
I think the new and improved Giolito is here.
Improved Pitch Location
The slider against right-handed batters has been straight nasty, generating 69.2 K% and 59% of his whiffs. This is a major increase from 2018 where his slide piece was generating 30.4 K% and 30.4% of whiffs.
Giolito is racking up those punch outs on right-handed batters not by an increased usage or added movement. He has been throwing it down and away from righties, and locating it very effectively.
Then, we can see how the wipe out slider looks when the fastball plays up:
When the slider is fooling righties, they can barely hit a darn thing. As of this post right-handed batters are hitting .083/.069/.083.
Getting into Better Counts
Success isn’t limited to righties but also against left-handed batters. However, this time it’s the changeup that’s working most effectively. His cambio is generating 40.0 K% and 30.2% whiffs, which is up from 20% and 29% respectively. But what has changed? Giolito is getting into better counts. Nick Gerli wrote an amazing article on pitcher’s two-strike rate. It has completely changed how I’ve looked at pitchers. Giolito was mentioned in the piece as being a second half improver. Interestingly, it has improved even more since last year. Through August 15, his 2 stk% was 20.8% and increased to 25.4% from August 15 to the end of the season. So far this season, his 2 Stk% is 27.8%. A seven point increase from last year is amazing.
Consistency and Mound Location
Another factor in Giolito’s increased performance? His changeup looks to be benefiting from an improved, constant release point.
Take a look at the 2018 and 2019 changeup release points:
See how nice and clustered his release point is this season? This consistency more consistent results from the pitch. He has also moved where he sets up on the rubber, slightly moving more towards first base. Take a look where he sets up against Whit Merrifield in 2018 and in 2019.
Add these positive changes on top of pitching in the American League Central, Giolito should have he best year ever.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)
Typically whenever you guys do a Going Deep article on a player, I go snatch that player up. But I’m still not sold after this. Giolito has been shelled 3 out of his last 5 starts and just hasn’t been consistent. He’s had small (microscopic) windows in the past where he has been rosterable (should be a word) but then quickly falls apart. I’m just not sold that he won’t implode again by next week.