Lucas Giolito – Crafty Young Veteran
Lucas Giolito‘s 2022 season was as underwhelming as the totality of the White Sox in that campaign. His 83 ERA+ (100 is average) was his worst since his now infamous (via ad campaign) 2018 season. Velocity was down, strike outs were down, innings pitched also down. Meanwhile, WHIP and ERA were up, up, up. Effectiveness waned. Many theories hung over the hurlers step back of a 2022 season. Illness, body changes (he put on substantial upper body weight), loss of “the sticky stuff”, etc.
One thing was abundantly clear, both the White Sox and Lucas needed this ship turned around ASAP. The White Sox for continuing to forge ahead into a contention window fraught with disappointment and Lucas heading straight into his contract season, the biggest year of his career to date. Would the soon to be 28 year old turn it around??
Rick Giolito told me everything will be fine
Not to brag, but Rick Giolito and I DM sometimes. He’s a wonderful guy. During the pandemic, he was nice enough to come on the 108’s You Tube channel and talk to us about baseball and life and we enjoyed the hell out of it. You can catch that conversation here. Anyways, just moments after last season ended, he shot me this DM. Sorry, I ain’t sharing the rest of our conversation. But he did proclaim to me in no uncertain terms that his son would in fact be #BACK in 2023.
I tend to listen to Rick, or as we affectionally call him in the 108, Papa G. We argued about the future of Dylan Cease and of course he was right and made me look like the goofy drunk uncle that I am. So when he speaks, I listen. But how was Lucas going to do it?
Probably NOT the way he had been doing it.
It’s Evolution, Baby!!
One thing that even the most casual observer could tell about 2022 Lucas Giolito was that he wasn’t throwing as hard as he had in the previous few years. Many pundits were exclaiming that his 2023 potential rebound would at least be somewhat tied to finding those missing tics of velocity. See the table above from Fangraphs. Lucas’ fastball velo was solidly at or above 94 MPH during the years in which he was putting hitters balls through a cheese grater. And in the years when it was below 93 MPH (on average of course), less than good things were happening.
As you can see in the table, so far in 2023, he’s closer in average fastball to those bad years than he is to his top years, EXCEPT, the results are terrific. Lucas wakes up this fine morning, 7 starts into 2023 with a 3.67 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, both on par with his best years and 41 K to only 9 BB. A terrific start to the season, but how?
Check out his game log below and the % of each pitch he’s throwing so far in 2023.
Lucas seems to have taken the approach that instead of being the high fastball / badminton bird change-up guy, he’s going to ebb and flow with this opponent. What we used to call when I was a kid “pitching”, lol. Look at the FB% based on opponent. Vs the Astros and Pirates, it’s 35%-36% fastball and then against the Twins it’s 55% fastballs. See the difference in Change up % as well, some as high as 30% others, 10% and below. Even an adjustment between Rays starts, where he dialed the change up all the way down and stuck to Fastball / Slider all the way.
This seems like a more blatant adjustment to executing pitches that are the opponents weakness instead of executing your best pitches, something I feel like I see less and less (although I am old and prone to various biases). Let’s look at his 2022 game log as you can see a shift in the middle of the season.
What does Lucas’ 2022 game log tell us?
You can see in 2022, the mix of pitch % stayed in a narrow band through early June. Not a ton of variation, other than mixing in the now non-existent curveball (which was considered a potential 80 grade pitch when he was drafted, wild). Then starting with Houston on my birthday more liberal pitch mix based on opponent.
I’m not sure why that became the case or why it started working better in the 2023 season, maybe just practice makes perfect, maybe that extra half tick on the fastball, it’s possible it’s just having to flex more and execute pitches in situations you weren’t throwing them that much that is helping. It’s quite possible having Johnny Cueto do his thing in Chicago for a year provided a template for this change, but the evolution of Lucas Giolito is fun to watch. I plan to enjoy it for the next few months, or as long as it lasts.