A former first round draft pick, Lucas Giolito was at one point the top right-handed pitching prospect in all of baseball. Early in his professional career, Giolito tore his UCL and had Tommy John surgery in 2012. Since that point, his stuff has never quite returned to pre-surgery levels, and he has shown a maddening ability to remain inconsistent from outing to outing. This season things have gone much better for Giolito, and last time out he tossed seven shutout innings against the Indians. Are we finally witnessing a breakout with the once highly regarded righty?

24 years old

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

Height/Weight: 6’6”, 245 lbs.

Position: Starting Pitcher 

THE NUMBERS

                   
 

Level

IP

W-L

ERA

WHIP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

GB/FB

2012

RK

2.0

0-0

4.50

1.00

4.5

0.0

0.0

 

2013

RK, A-

36.2

2-1

1.96

1.15

9.6

3.4

0.2

 

2014

A

98.0

10-2

2.20

1.00

10.1

2.6

0.6

 

2015

A+, AA

117.0

7-7

3.15

1.28

10.1

2.8

0.2

 

2016

A, AA, AAA

115.1

6-5

2.97

1.28

9.1

3.4

0.5

 

2017

AAA

128.2

6-10

4.48

1.41

9.4

4.1

1.2

 

Minors

 

497.5

31-25

3.18

1.25

9.6

3.3

0.6

 

2016

MLB

21.1

0-1

6.75

1.78

4.64

5.06

2.95

1.25

2017

MLB

45.1

3-3

2.38

0.95

6.75

2.38

1.59

1.29

2018

MLB

173.1

10-13

6.13

1.48

6.49

4.67

1.40

1.19

2019

MLB

31.0

3-1

4.06

1.28

11.03

4.35

0.87

1.38

Career

 

271.0

16-18

5.31

1.39

6.91

4.28

1.49

1.22

 

 

Baseball America

Baseball Prospectus

MLB.com

2013

67th

70th  

 74th

2014

 21st

 13th

 44th

2015

 7th

 6th

 6th

2016

 5th

 3rd

 3rd

2017

 25th

 10th

 12th

THE SKILLS

Here’s a quote that I could have written. “One fantastic outing won't change hearts and minds all by itself, but Giolito was indeed excellent Tuesday night in Cleveland, matching a career high with 7.1 innings.” Despite my total agreement with the statement, I was inundated with questions from folks looking to add Giolito, with multiple people asking if we were about to see a Trevor Bauer-like explosion (I’m serious, multiple folks compared Giolito to Bauer).

Let’s slow down that role a bit folks.

Let’s start with that most recent effort. In that last outing, Giolito threw 105 pitches, 70 of them for strikes. Impressively, he had that success throwing only four breaking balls all game as he went exclusively with the fastball and changeup (67 fastballs and 34 changeups). “I was like, ‘Why mess around? Let’s go after them with heaters and changeups off of that’ and it worked out well,” said Giolito. “The changeup, I had good feel for it. I had good break. Good velocity difference from my heater and so we just rode that out.”

Let’s look at his pitch mix, realizing that last game was an anomaly.

Giolito threw his fastball 59.5 percent of the time the last two years.
Thus far this season, he’s thrown his fastball 57 percent of the time.

The last two years Giolito has thrown his slider 14 percent of the time.
Thus far this season, he’s thrown his slider 12.2 percent of the time.

Giolito threw his curveball 10 percent of the time.
Thus far this season, he’s thrown the curveball 8.6 percent of the time.

The last two years Giolito has thrown his changeup 16 percent of the time.
Thus far this season, he’s thrown the changeup 22 percent of the time.

Overall, things are pretty similar, but his heavy usage of the changeup last time out is reflected in the six-percentage point increase on the changeup.

On that changeup, Giolito owns a 2.33 GB/FB ratio, a strong number. He also has a 51.7 percent swinging rate on the pitch which is 44th out of 89 qualifiers. He’s 22nd in whiff rate on the pitch which is obviously better. Note that the pitch has been dominant to this point, with an unsustainable .367 OPS. No matter how much movement and swings the pitch is getting, there’s just no way the number will remain that low (career .579). Still, even the higher number is indicative of the pitch being a true weapon to attack batters with.

The fastball now.

The four-seamer was annihilated last season with a .412 wOBA. The mark is reasonable this year at .341, but that’s still not impressive. The spin rate is up about 150 revolutions, and the K-rate is up eight percent on the pitch as well, so we are seeing improvement in the early going, though we shouldn’t get overly excited.

The curveball has been destroyed for a .483 wOBA on the 13 plate appearances that have ended on the pitch this year. The mark was a blah-to-poor .353 last season.

The slider was a good weapon last year with a .231 wOBA, and in the early going it’s been even more impressive (.153 in 16 PAs).

Safe to say, he has the pitches to be successful, and he’s able to use four pitches when needed, a nice ability when attacking those batters.

When it comes to the strikeout, the number has exploded for Giolito. Though he owns an 8.8 swinging strike rate in his career, the number is way up at 12.0 percent this season. Those swings have led to a massive 11.03 K/9 rate. I would note that the last three years the highest mark he’s posted is 6.75. Guys just don’t add four batters to their K/9 rate. It doesn’t happen. O-Contact is the number of pitches where contact was made on pitches outside the strike zone. Despite the good to this point, Giolito has a mark of 50.8 percent, fully 14 percentage points off his career mark. Guys just aren’t chasing his pitches like they used to. That O-contact rate further suggests that the current K-rate isn’t sustainable either. His zone swing percentage is only up 0.6 above his career number as well. Hard to see him coming remotely close to his current K pace.

To this point in 2019 Giolito’s exit velocity is 1.3 mph elevated versus his career mark. The 13.9 percent launch angle mark is 0.8 elevated. The 36.8 percent hard-hit rate is 0.2 below his career mark.

To this point in 2019 Giolito’s GB/FB ratio is slightly up at 1.38 compared to his career 1.22 mark. However, his ground ball rate hasn’t changed at all as the mark is 0.6 tenths below his career rate. He has seen the fly ball rate drop four percentage points, which yes, means that the line drive rate is way up (by five percentage points). The slight decrease in fly ball rate has been aided by a four-year low in the HR/FB rate at 12.5 percent (career 15.3). Given the exit velo, the launch angle, the hard-hit rates… one would think that the HR/FB ratio is likely to tilt upwards a bit.

Let’s talk the ever-present walk.

Last year, Giolito walked 4.67 batters per nine innings.

This season, Giolito has walked 4.35 batters per nine innings.

Both numbers are horrible.

Last season, one pitcher posted an ERA of 4.00 or better with a 4.35 BB/9 rate or higher (minimum 140 innings). It was the oft-ineffective Sean Newcomb. Moreover, only three hurlers had an ERA under 4.00 while walking 3.60 batters or more (Julio Teheran and Kyle Gibson).

Last season, zero pitchers posted a WHIP of 1.25 or better with a 4.35 BB/9 rate or higher (minimum 140 innings). In fact, Teheran was the only pitcher in baseball who posted a WHIP of 1.25 or better while walking 3.60 batters or more per nine.

Face facts. Not much of the rest of this overall report matters much if Giolito doesn’t knock a half batter off his walk rate, a level he has been at his last 38 starts.

He has upped his first pitch strike rate four percent over his career mark this season at a league average 60.8 percent, but that still hasn’t helped to curtail the walk. He’s also thrown 50.5 percent of his pitches in the strike zone this season, a career best mark. That too hasn’t helped reduce the walk rate.

There’s also one other point that deserves a mention. Lucas has a .361 wOBA at home this season, and the mark was .358 last season (including a .377 OBP and .451 SLG). I would also add that since the start of last season, at home, he’s walked 5.3 batters per nine while allowing 1.50 homers per nine. Does that sound like someone you want to be starting at home?

PLAYING TIME

Let’s look at the miles on his arm.

2012: 2.0 innings (Tommy John surgery)
2013: 36.2 innings
2014: 98.0 innings
2015: 117.0 innings
2016: 136.2 innings
2017: 174.0 innings
2018: 173.1 innings

Giolito has never thrown 175-innings, but he’s been right on the cusp the last two seasons. Giolito has already missed some time this season with a hamstring issue, so he shouldn’t be expected to blow past his innings total the last two seasons, but there’s also little reason to be overly concerned that he’s going the route of teammate Carlos Rodon either. Giolito should start every five games for the White Sox as they continue to assess if they can build around him moving forward.

The 2019 Fantasy Guru Rankings.

CONCLUSION

Giolito has an impressive pedigree, and he’s a striking figure when on the hill. He has also flashed this season causing a swell of support to be directed his way. At the same time, the continued struggles to limit the walks should tramp down the excitement generated by the positive work. It’s also highly likely that the K-rate will slow, it’s just too high given the myriad of data points listed above. Am I will to accept the suggestion that this is the best he’s looked as a major leaguer? Yes. I’m further willing to accept the notion that Giolito might be ready to transition from streaming starter to a hold in mixed leagues, provided of course that you be extremely cautious about using him at home where he’s been decidedly below average since the start of last season. Better, yes. A lock down, trustable piece worth starting every time out? He’s just not there yet.