Thu. Nov 21st, 2019

Whom the F*** is That Guy?! Lucas Giolito

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6/4/2019

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Indeed, Eleven, just whom the fuck is that guy? Once a week I’ll be breaking down a player who is surprising the league – for better or for worse. This will range from stars we’ve grown to expect greatness from all the way to obscure players who have appeared out of nowhere. In each case it will beg the question: Whom the fuck is that guy?!

Lucas Giolito – SP, Chicago White Sox

Remember the 2016 White Sox? If you don’t, then please allow me to refresh your memory. In 2016, the Chicago White Sox were for all intents and purposes, the laughing stock of baseball – they lacked chemistry, lacked winning, and of course, lacked leadership. The season included the now-famous incident of Chris Sale taking a bowie knife to the team’s throwback uniforms like a deranged Bear Grylls, Todd Frazier and Adam Eaton Mean Girl-ing like Caty Heron and Regina George, and of course the distraction of Drake – not the rapper – and Adam LaRoche’s family feud with ownership. The drama led to Kenny Williams and the rest of upper management to lighting the metaphorical fuse to blow this team up.

Jimmy Rollins, who apparently is not great with kids, was the first domino to fall as Chicago turned into a complete fire sale. No one was safe and everyone who had a hand — or knife — in contributing to Chicago’s lack of chemistry was sent packing. This was the beginning of a massive rebuild and to no one’s surprise, Williams traded Chis Sale on December 6 in a blockbuster deal which netted Chicago Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. Williams wasn’t done however, as just a day later he would deliver yet another blockbuster, but this time, the trade revolved around everyone’s favorite teammate, Adam Eaton. The return for Eaton was thought at the time to be even better than the Sale trade. Chicago received two pitching prospects in Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, with Giolito regarded by many as the top pitching prospect in all of baseball.

Finally, the stench from 2016 was starting to clear. The White Sox had a deep farm system with three potential top-flight arms who would go on to help the ChiSox for years to come. This was the initial reaction, but leading up to this current season, only Reynaldo Lopez had experienced any type of success. Michael Kopech suffered the dreaded UCL tear and will be rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and Lucas Giolito … well it had been a mixed bag of results.

Fangraphs

What this graph represents is Lucas Giolito’s ERA since his debut. In baseball, it’s not good when this graph shares similarities with an EKG. In fact, the gray “flat line” is what scouts and analysts would rather see, albeit even lower than where the gray sits now. A lot of people, myself included, contributed his 2016 numbers to simple rookie growing pains. In his small sample size he provided in 2017, it looked like he was taking the right steps into becoming the pitcher many envisioned.

In 2018, the wheels fell off and Giolito, statistically speaking at least, was the worst pitcher in baseball. Giolito was last in the MLB with an atrocious 6.13 ERA in 173.1 IP. To add insult to injury, his FIP mark was also worst in the majors at 5.56 and his K/9 (6.49) coupled with his BB/9 (4.67) left even more to be desired. Considering just how bad he was in 2018, it’s somewhat impressive he made 32 starts throughout the season. Credit Chicago with the patience of a dead man because most other teams would likely have pulled the plug on Giolito or at least optioned him back to the minors. Scouts were low on the once top-prospect and below you can read an outlook on Giolito, courtesy of Fangraphs’ Jeff Zimmerman:

“The 24-year-old Giolito has fallen from grace after being one of the league’s top pitching prospects. If he didn’t have his previous prospect status, no one would care for a starter with the following career numbers: 6.4 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 1.6 HR/9, 5.48 ERA, and a 92.5 mph fastball. He’d immediately be released or demoted but owners continue holding on for hope. Just so much must improve for him to be fantasy relevant. Most importantly, the walks have got to come down near 3.0 BB/9 compared to last season’s 4.7 BB/9. Of the 74 pitchers with 150 IP, the walk rate was the league’s worst. His 6.5 K/9 weren’t any better coming in as the 7th worst among the same group. His 1.4 HR/9 was a little better. It was only the 17th worst. He loves throwing both his fastballs 60% of the time but they both have a below average swinging-strike rate under 5%. Also, his once amazing curve has just a 6% SwStr%. His change and slider are excellent at 17% and 16% respectively. He needs to accept that he’s a new pitcher and his fastball and curve aren’t going to be his bread-and-butter and try to adapt. Otherwise, he’ll continue to see his name among the league’s worst pitchers.”

I don’t know Jeff Zimmerman personally and I doubt he was the only person who held this outlook for Lucas Giolito. It makes you wonder then, if Lukey-boy has channeled the force or worked with Obi-Wan Kenobi in the offseason because the Padawan amateur we saw last year is certainly a full-fledged Jedi knight — I’m not apologizing for the Star Wars metaphor.

It’s tough to say one thing has truly shaped Giolito’s renaissance, but when looking at his numbers for pitch type and his velocity, there are some key indicators.

Fangraphs

For starters, his fastball average velocity is up to 94 MPH. This alone is a nice little stat, but the number I want to zero in on is 24.6 percent — as in the percentage he throws his changeup. This number has spiked from last year’s 15.9 percent and is a very big reason for Giolito’s overall dominance this year — safe to say he adapted. In fact, to see a full breakdown or ‘BRKDWN’ check out the side-by-side comparison of last year to this year:

Baseball Reference

He’s already pitched two complete games this year which is two more than he pitched all last year and since May 2, he has not allowed more than three  earned runs in any start. It’s truly amazing that the worst pitcher in baseball has been able to transform himself overnight into one of the best pitchers in baseball. If Chicago can get similar contributions from their young team, then there’s no reason to think Giolito and the Sox won’t be able to continue to improve. So as one parting thought to Lucas Giolito: “Use the force Luke … and the change up”.

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