How Lucas Giolito went from zero to hero

Before this season, Lucas Giolito was perceived as a bust. During his time with the Nationals, he was a high ranked prospect with lots of potential. He was taken 16th overall in the 2012 draft out of high school, which does come with lofty expectations. However, during his time in the bigs with the Nationals, it was not only short-lived but it was horrendous. Through 21.1 innings, Giolito carried a 6.75 ERA. Now that’s a small sample size but his ERA was so high that it almost makes any amount of innings paired with it insignificant.

I’m sure many of us remember the trade that sent Lucas Giolito to the White Sox. If you were like me, you were probably confused and thought that the Nationals were not wise to give up a young prospect like Giolito so soon. However, once a year had passed and even two years had passed on that deal, I realized that maybe the Nationals had won the trade. Giolito was still not performing and Reynaldo Lopez, who was another pitcher sent to the White Sox in the trade, was also not performing at a high level. During this time, Adam Eaton was providing the Nationals with valuable service time as his OPS had not dipped below .800 at the end of each season. However, now to script has been flipped. Eaton is still providing very solid production for the Nationals but Giolito is finally turning into the player he was always supposed to.

So we’ve established that Giolito is good but how did he get here? As the case for most pitchers, newfound success can somewhat be contributed to changes in pitch%. That is true for Giolito, but in a way that is different than most. Many see an increase in either a new or underused off-speed pitch. Giolito however, is the opposite. He has increased the use of his fastball as you can see below.

Now, he has also increased the usage of his change-up but the change that he made with his fastball is the most prominent out of them. You can also take notice of the dip in his curveball usage. The change makes a lot of sense based on what the data says. His curveball spin rate ranks 182nd among pitchers according to Baseball Savant. Hitters are slugging .682 off of his curveball this season and slugged .500 off of his curveball in 2018. It appears that either the White Sox or Giolito himself figured out what pitches to throw to be successful and so far it has paid off.

I believe that Giolito can be even better and is yet to hit his peak. A big reason for that is that he is only 25 and is still before the time that pitchers will usually hit their peak. However, I think he can be better based on how he utilizes his changeup. When it comes to Giolito’s changeup there is a large difference between SLG% and xSLG%. Specifically, his SLG% is much higher than his xSLG%. This indicates that when Giolito throws his changeup he has been rather unlucky and the results he receives are not true. So what he should be doing is throwing his changeup even more. If he makes that change in addition to improving his curveball, there is no reason why he can’t be a Cy Young contender. That’s a bold prediction and it’s hard to see it happening, but if those changes are made than I don’t see a reason as to why he can’t reach that level of effectiveness.