With the position players done, we move on to the starting pitching staff where we begin with what might be the biggest success story in White Sox (pitching) history. More on this after the stats jump. To The K-Mobile!
Games Started: 29
14 Wins 9 Losses
3.41 ERA 1.064 WHIP
228 Ks 56 BB 24 HR
11.62 K/9 3.43 FIP
Tell Me A Story: In 2018, Lucas Giolito was the worst starter in all of Major League Baseball. That’s not hyperbole at all, it’s a statistical fact according to Fangraphs. Out of 57 pitchers who met innings pitched requirements, Giolito ranked 57th. Having personally watched a few of his starts live last season, it was a ranking well earned.
With that in mind, expectations for this season were not very high. When he started the first five games of the season with a 5.32 ERA, most were ready to write him off as not a viable core piece for The Future™ being built by Rick Hahn.
Then he went and ripped off nine-straight starts where he didn’t give up more than three runs and struck out at least seven batters. Even more impressive was the improvement of his control, only walking 16 batters in those nine starts. His changeup was electric, with the kind of downward motion that Johan Santana used to beguile Sox hitters with. His fastball was located in the upper reaches of the zone, just at the spot where a hitter can’t possibly catch up to it but it still looks like it could be a strike.
He had one burp (unfortunately) against the Cubs where he gave up six, but he rolled into the All-Star break with an 11-3 record and a 3.15 ERA. This was easily good enough for him to be selected to his first ever All Star game (along with the guy he credits for some of his improvement, James McCann), and ranked him as the 2nd best pitcher in the AL after future White Sox signee (I hope) Gerrit Cole.
After the All Star break ended, Giolito ran into some trouble. From the middle of July till the end of August his walks-per-9 spiked from around 1.55 to almost 2.50. The changeup that was dancing so well at the end of July was just spinning in the middle of the zone and getting pummeled by opposing hitters. Most pitchers that like to live at the top of the zone are susceptible to the long ball, but as long as their out pitch moves out of the zone it’s a line they can walk. That wasn’t happening in Gio’s case, and the results were showing.
As is his way, Giolito dove into the Sox video archives of his starts and dissected his mechanics to find out what his issues were with the release point in his change that were causing it to get slaughtered. Whatever he found, it worked. From his start against the A’s on August 11th (where he gave up two in six innings and took the L while striking out 13) to when the Sox pulled the plug on him in the middle of September with a lat strain Giolito had a 3.33 ERA in seven starts while striking out 70 and only walking 10.
From the 57th starter in the league last season to the 10th overall this year, Giolito is deserving of a few Cy Young votes, and is one of the three players nominated for Comeback Player of the Year Award. He’s also become the surprise gem in the Sox pitching rotation of The Future™. The most impressive thing about Gio’s stats this year (other than the BB and K rates) is the fact that very little of his success is due to batted-ball luck. His FIP is 3.43, which is only .02 higher then his actual ERA, and his BABIP sits at a cool .275, where in comparison Gerrit Cole’s is at .273.
Credit to Giolito for not imploding in on himself like a dwarf star and becoming the latest in a long list of high hype pitchers that never live up to expectations. After the disaster that the 2018 season was for him, his hard work in the off-season should be the boilerplate for Sox pitchers, and something that Reynaldo Lopez should look to emulate this winter.
Contract: Giolito earned $573,000 in 2019 and is under team control in 2020. After that the arbitration years kick in and things will get exponentially more expensive. Look for Rick Hahn to attempt to buy him out of his arbitration years like the Sox did with Tim Anderson and Eloy with a 5-6 year extension.
Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: This isn’t even a consideration, as Giolito has become the ace that the Sox have been looking to develop since before Chris Sale suited up. As a certified member of The Future™, Giolito will be here for the long haul and should become the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Sox starting rotation from here on out, teaching the young Padawans his secret Jedi pitching ways. Sorry, just watched the new Star Wars trailer for the 300th time and am still buzzing.