Lucas Giolito struggled in his first brief stint at the major-league level with the Nationals, but with a fresh start on the south side in 2017, Giolito is looking to get back to the basics with White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper this spring.
In the summer of 2012 the Washington Nationals selected Lucas Giolito out of Harvard-Westlake HS in Los Angeles, California with the 16th pick in the June MLB Draft. In the spring of 2013 as the then 18-year-old Giolito embarked on his professional career within the Nationals system, he was the 70th ranked prospect in baseball.
Giolito underwent Tommy John surgery within a month of being signed by the Washington Nationals, but recovered splendidly and was back in action in 2013 to begin his professional career. After a solid short season at the lower levels for Giolito in 2013, that featured a 2-1 record and a 1.96 ERA over the course of 11 starts, Giolito shot all the way up to the third ranked prospect in baseball in the spring of 2014.
Giolito would have another fantastic season in 2014, posting a 10-2 record with a 2.20 ERA, while striking out 110 hitters and walking only 28 over the span of 98 innings pitched. 2015 was a year of mixed results for Giolito, posting a 2.71 ERA with 86 strike outs and 20 walks over the course of 69.2 innings pitched at the Advanced-A level, before struggling slightly at the Double-A level in the second half of the season. Giolito pitched 47.1 innings at the Double-A level in 2015, striking out 45 hitters, walking 17, and posting a 3.80 ERA for the Harrisburg Senators.
In 2016, at 20 years old Giolito excelled at both the Double-A and Triple-A level, posting a 2.97 ERA to go along with 116 strike outs and 44 walks over the course of 115 innings of work before the Nationals called him up to the major-league level late in the 2016 season. While Giolito worked his way through the minor-league level at a feverish pace, reaching his major-league debut at the age of just 21, something was off during his first cup of coffee in the big leagues.
Over the course of six games (four starts) Giolito struggled to command the strike zone during his brief stint with the Nationals. In 21.1 innings of work Giolito posted a 6.75 ERA with the Nationals while striking out only 11 hitters and walking 12. So what gives? It’s not that he just forgot how to pitch from Triple-A to the major-league level, but he was clearly a different pitcher according to his numbers at the two different levels.
Giolito has pointed out this spring that the Nationals coaching staff asked him to make changes to his delivery that made him uncomfortable during his brief action at the major-league level in 2016.
Take a look at Giolito in August of 2015 in a game versus Bowie, the video shows him facing Baltimore Orioles top-prospects Trey Mancini and Chance Sisco, and making quick work of them while doing so.
You can see in the video that Giolito employs a high, tight leg kick that comes above his waistline while keeping his hands loose, and close to his stomach, with his elbow in a ninety degree position when pitching out of the wind-up. Out of the stretch Giolito goes to a shorter, lower leg kick while keeping his hands in the same area near his belly. Giolito’s arm slot varied in this footage, sometimes using a straight overhand release, and sometimes using a 3/4 release.
You can see in the videos of his time in the major leagues (which you can check out on YouTube, but we will not embed because Major League Baseball is not a fan of that) in 2016, that Giolito is using a much more deliberate leg kick both out of the wind-up and the stretch with the Nationals. His hand placement is significantly higher as well, with his elbow’s at his waist still, but his forearms bring his hands up to about his sternum, and looks unnatural. His stride is far longer than it is in his minor-league footage, and looks like he is overthrowing on most of his deliveries.
Now take a look at this short clip of Giolito’s delivery out of the stretch this week at camp, courtesy of Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune.
— Colleen Kane (@ChiTribKane) February 14, 2017
You can see in the clip that Giolito has gone back to a shorter leg kick, as well as the short stride that he displayed in the first video from August of 2015 while in the Nationals minor-league system.
Clearly Giolito is well on his way to returning to using his mechanics of the old, the mechanics that helped him blaze through the Nationals farm-system just three seasons removed from high school. Here’s what Giolito had to say this week about his work thus far with Don Cooper, as well as his feelings on why he struggled with the Nationals late last season,
“I experienced a lot of hardship in the big leagues last year. I didn’t pitch well at all. I got hit pretty hard. So I learned a lot from that. I took a lot away just dealing with adversity, being able to make adjustments on the fly, slowing things down when things are speeding up. I’m going to try to take everything I’ve learned and apply that and be a little bit better this year.
“For me, it’s just get back to basics, keep it really simple,” said Giolito. I’d say last year, I overcomplicated things a little too much in my head, got a little out of whack. I’m looking forward to keeping it as simple as possible and getting back to what makes me successful.”
Giolito will continue to work on his mechanics this spring with the White Sox before likely beginning the season at the Triple-A level with the Charlotte Knights, but it shouldn’t be long before the now 22-year-old is forcing the case to return to the major-league level.
“Coming up and not doing well, it really helped me mature a lot in a short period of time,” he said. “I’m looking to put it all together this year.”
Coupled with his “keep it basic” mindset and mechanical approach with the White Sox, Giolito says that he has had an “Immediate positive reaction,” since being acquired by the White Sox, that has allowed him to relax and enjoy the process here in Chicago, a welcome “fresh start” according to Giolito.