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Lucas Giolito Was Masterful Last Night and Has Turned Into The White Sox Ace

If you listen to Red Line Radio, you know that Carl and I couldn’t be bigger changeup enthusiasts.  We’re both of the opinion that after a well-commanded fastball, it’s the singular most important pitch in baseball.  And Lucas Giolito has officially developed a masterful changeup that was on full display last night.

Before we get into Giolito specifically, let’s talk about why it’s so effective to develop a good changeup.

Most pitchers don’t need one in HS or college.  Changeups are feel pitches, and by feel pitch I mean they’re pitches that are gripped in unorthodox manners and in multiple variations.  In order to develop a good “feel” for a pitch, a pitcher has to toy with different grips a LOT in order to become comfortable with the pitch.  In the instance of throwing a changeup, the most common type being a circle change, held like this:

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I used multiple examples here because circle changeups are not all created equal.   The “feel” and comfort levels vary from pitcher to pitcher on how to grip the ball and across whatever X seams on the ball.  It takes a ton of repetition to develop a feel or comfort level for the pitch, which is why most HS and college pitchers don’t use it often.  They can rely on a fastball to blow hitters away and pair their fastballs with curveballs/sliders which are all easier to throw/grip.  Why spend hours and hours working on a changeup when you can find success without it?  It’s obviously more difficult to command a pitch with your middle, ring and pinky fingers opposed to one’s index and middle fingers, so lazy HS and college pitchers don’t work on mastering it very often.

Which brings us to Lucas Giolito, who was the best HS pitcher in the country his Jr. and Sr. years, throwing 95+ with a wipe out hook.  Why fuck with a changeup when you don’t need to?  This reigns true for a LOT of high draft picks, especially high HS draft picks.

But Giolito, over the course of the last 7 years, has developed a straight up filthy changeup.  This is after getting 70+ grades on his curveball as a prospect:

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and a 70 grade tool is basically HoF level of awesome.   But early in his career, hitters teed off on him.  I know it, you know it, he knows it.  Everyone on earth knows it.  It was bombs away a lot of his starts.

Once he got to the upper levels of MiLB and into the Majors, Giolito was basically a 2 pitch pitcher.  Fastball, curveball and a show-me changeup he only had confidence to throw in extreme pitcher’s counts like 0-2, 1-2.  A curveball isn’t designed to look like a fastball; it’s designed to change the eye level of hitters, while making hitters need to almost lead their bat to where they hope the pitch winds up, similar to a QB leading a receiver.  But if a pitcher is only throwing fastball curveball, they just won’t swing at the curveball as they know they’ll get a fastball to rope at one point or another in the at bat.

So big league hitters knew they could effectively eliminate a changeup early in the count, while also laying off his big curveball early in the count, sit fastball and swing for the fence.  And that’s what they did, to a tune of a 6.00+ ERA last year.

But as soon as I saw Giolito early in spring training this year, I knew for a grade A, 100% fact that he was going to be a different pitcher, and it only took me one inning or so, because he was effectively pairing his fastball with a changeup in any count while also repeating his mechanics pretty flawlessly.  He got lit up a bit in spring but anyone with a brain ignores spring training stats and focuses on spring training processes.  He just looked different to me and I wrote about it here:

I’ve never been so confident in being correct about a prediction in my life.  I immediately fell in love with the 2019 version of Giolito as a pitcher and needed the world to get on board with him.

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I know I’m a bumbling idiot and come off as a meathead, but I spend every waking breath of my life studying the process and mechanics of hitting/pitching baseballs and really know what I’m talking about when I do hitter/pitcher breakdowns like these.  It’s a lot more difficult to craft a breakdown like these than regurgitate an OPS that I plucked off Baseball Reference or Fangraphs or just go over a box score step by step.

And we’re now 6 Lucas Giolito starts into the 2019 season and people are all aboard.  As they should be.  So now we circle back to the thesis of this blog, which is changeups and how they make good pitchers great.  Instead of being a fastball/curveball/show-me changeup pitcher, Giolito has evolved into a fastball/changeup pitcher with the ability to snap off a knee shattering curveball or barrel missing slider. Last night was a perfect example.  Here is his pitch sequencing chart from last night:

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105 total pitches.  67 fastballs, 34 changeups, FOUR breaking pitches.  He was a fastball/changeup pitcher last night.  His command is still a work in progress, though it’s light years better than it was before, but he was basically a 6’6″, 260 pound version of Kyle Hendricks last night, arguably the best fastball/changeup pitcher in baseball.   When a hitter expects 94 but gets 81 or gets 81 when expecting 94… it’s game over.  And last night it was game over from Gio’s first pitch of the game.

Watching him rattle off a perfectly executed, fading changeup in hitter’s counts when hitters were sitting fastballs was a thing of goddamn beauty.  Weak contact, swings and misses, you name it.  He had the (admittedly shitty) Cleveland lineup spinning themselves into the ground all night long.  And it’s all because he’s developed a feel to throw his changeup in any given count.  Pair that with his ever improving coordination and mechanics and we got a fucking ace on our hands.

I expect this version of Lucas Giolito to not only continue over the course of the season, but to get even better.  There will be random nights when he’s got a feel for all 4 pitches in his arsenal and he’s going to strike out 13-14 guys in a complete game shut out or some shit.  That’s how confident I am in the process he adopted over the course of the offseason and stayed true to over the course of his first 6 starts.

PS – really special shoutout to James McCann.  I had never realized how good of a baseball player he is until this season.  Figured he was just another place holder until Collins, Zavala, whoever take the reigns in mid 2019.  But he is FAR from that.  Obviously he’s hitting better than he ever has in his career and can’t sustain this pace, but how he commands his staff, receives pitches, blocks, controls the run game, and is in general just another coach on the field is incredible.  I don’t care if he doesn’t notch another hit the entire rest of the year, he’s a PERFECT catcher for this young staff.  He identified early last night, perhaps as early as pregame bullpen, that Giolito had his fastball/changeup combo working.  As soon as the first pitch was thrown, he kept Giolito in a perfect rhythm and called a beautiful game saying “fuck the breaking pitches, Giolito will dominate without them.”  I LOVE him as a catcher.  Give him every single start behind home plate.  Not kidding, I don’t care if they dump Castillo for absolutely nothing. James McCann is the perfect field general and I love him.  He supersedes any standard box score statistic, and saved the game last night in the 8th with two huge blocks on tough balls in the dirt.  What an A+ signing he was.