The former star prospect is starting to find himself on the South Side
The Chicago White Sox aren’t a very good team. That’s by design, of course; they’re still in mid-rebuild and waiting for a couple more prospects to hit the big leagues or heal up and a couple of division rivals to get worse.
Some of their other youngsters are just now beginning to flourish, but you’d be right to just kind of not notice—it’s the fate of a bottom feeder, to be ignored by the broader baseball audience while they try to piece it together.
You’d also be right to not really notice that Lucas Giolito, once a top-ten prospect in all of baseball whose star had substantially faded, may have figured something out and is on a path to realize the potential that made him central to the Adam Eaton deal. The neat part is that the change he made that’s made him so effective in 2019 happened last year.
Effective in this case is a 3.55 ERA, a 3.05 FIP, and a 29.5 percent strikeout rate and no rise in his walk rate. That strikeout rate is nearly double a year ago, and higher than all but one year in the minors. The ERA is nearly half what he logged a year ago, when people started to shovel dirt on the idea of his being a potential ace starter. People love to overreact, and it’s only seven starts, but in fairness Giolito did look terrible last year. The good news is, he didn’t accept that, and this year he’s attacking hitters in a very different way:
Notable is that eight point increase in his changeup usage. More notable is what Giolito has done to make that pitch different. Something changed last year, and he started getting considerably more, and more consistent, horizontal movement on it:
Like I said, something switched in the middle of the year, and Giolito was throwing a much more hard to hit pitch. And if you actually look at it, the difference is stark:
The pitch on the left is from early June, the pitch on the right is from late August. The result is the same—a swinging strike—but the pitch in the later one is firmer, less lofting, and has considerably more bite. It looks like a fastball until the very last second, not a cruddy curveball. This has been vital in Giolito unlocking himself this year. And, as our own Kenny Kelly wrote about earlier this week, the marked improvement of his fastball has given Giolito a one-two punch that will swiftly vault him up the ranks of starting pitchers.
The White Sox need pitchers to make a leap if this rebuild is going to work out. From Carlos Rodon to Michael Kopech, promising young hurlers are falling left and right, and those still standing are simply not very good right now. So Giolito proving that this year isn’t a fluke is vital for them. The hitters are turning a corner, the arms need to join them, and that’s when the South Side will rise.
Merritt Rohlfing writes for Let’s Go Tribe and Beyond the Box Score, podcasting at the former. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillLunch.