Lucas Giolito’s first 163.2 IP in the Major Leagues have been a disaster. I know people will see the 45.1 IP last year with a 2.38 ERA for the White Sox and say that I’m crazy, but the facts are the facts as they say. The question is, is it already too late for Giolito to be salvaged and become, at least, a mid-rotation starter for the next competitive White Sox team?
If we look historically, thanks to the wonders of the Baseball-Reference Play Index, the deck is stacked against him. Only one pitcher in the history of baseball has pitched more innings than Giolito with a higher FIP, lower K/9, and higher BB/9. Who is the answer to this elusive question you ask? Denny Stark, who somehow was able to last in the Big Leagues from 1999-2009 with the Mariners and Rockies despite this historic level of poor performance. Simply put, pitchers that have performed as poorly as Giolito has typically don’t get the opportunity to keep pitching in the Major Leagues.
There is one name that we as Sox fans can look to with a glimmer of hope, however. The seemingly aloof, Gavin Floyd. Floyd’s first 166 IP in the Major Leagues with the Phillies and White Sox were also a disaster. From September 3, 2004 to September 18, 2007 Floyd amassed 166 IP and a 6.25 FIP. However, he was striking out hitters at a higher rate and, surprisingly, walking hitters at a lesser rate than Giolito. Something clicked for Gavin in the spring of 2008 though and he began a five year stretch where he was on average, a three win player according to Fangraphs. That is a mid-rotation starter personified, and for those of us who lived the Gavin Floyd experience, we know there were some great highs. He would seemingly have a 6 week stretch every year where he was absolutely lights out and would go to the mound consistently with no-hit stuff. He would then, unfortunately, follow that up with a month’s worth of clunkers that would have sports talk radio callers ready to ship him out of town.
From 2008 until his Sox tenure ended in early April of 2013, Floyd had 972 IP with a 4.07 FIP. The key to Floyd’s turnaround was an uptick in strikeouts in comparison with his early career struggles (7.21 k/9 vs. 6.23 k/9), a decline in walks (2.84 BB/9 vs. 4.34 BB/9), and an astonishing decline in HR/9 (1.05 vs. 1.90). These are things we are all looking at regarding Lucas Giolito and saying he must improve. He’s walking too many hitters, striking out too few, and giving up too many homers. Similar to Floyd, Giolito has the first round pick draft pedigree that will seemingly buy him more time to try and iron out his issues.
Perhaps the biggest key for Giolito will be developing some level of repeatability with his mechanics. For a pitcher as tall as Giolito, who stands 6’6’’, repeatability with mechanics can be something that takes years to master. The long levers he has can cause his body to get out of sync frequently. This gives him a tendency to pull his front shoulder causing him to miss upstairs with fastballs, while spiking breaking balls in a fashion that won’t even tempt hitters to chase them. The good news is, he’s not alone in this struggle historically. Those of us old enough to remember Randy Johnson, can recall footage early in his tenure with the Mariners where he was averaging over 6 BB/9. Johnson who stood a stunning 6’ 10’’ had the same concerns about repeatability with his delivery that Giolito currently has but he was able to harness them into a Hall of Fame career.
So where do we go from here with Giolito? The truth is we are getting closer to a point of no return with each start. Given the historical struggles Giolito has had, there is a sense of urgency to get his performance on track quickly, or he may indeed be the first casualty of the rebuild. The hope is that he can, under the tutelage of Don Cooper, develop a level of repeatability with his mechanics allowing him to harness the ability that got him first round grades as a prep, and a spot among the Top 100 Prospects List just a short time ago. If he can achieve this, I think we can look to Gavin Floyd as a template for what Giolito could be. I think we as Sox fans need to adjust our expectations for him, as he doesn’t appear to be the top of the rotation arm we all thought he was when the Sox acquired him from Washington back in December of 2016. Given the critical mass of pitching prospects the Sox have acquired to this point, if Giolito can slot into a future rotation as a number three or number four starter, I think that would be a tremendous win for the team.
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