I’ll get to Lucas Giolito in a moment. But first, James Paxton. Paxton has always had pretty good stuff, but for a while, he didn’t know quite where it was going. Here are two screenshots from before Paxton broke out.
Paxton would reach back, and, with his glove arm, he’d reach up. Like, way up. And that sort of set the tone, because Paxton’s throwing arm would then come over the top. There are good over-the-top pitchers — there are great over-the-top pitchers — but Paxton didn’t become one. Not quite. Early in 2016, Paxton changed his angles. Almost instantly, he gained some gas, and he gained some control. Paxton turned into an ace-level starter, when he’s been healthy enough to start, at least. Two more screenshots, now.
Paxton’s glove arm has calmed down. And while he’s still not a side-armer or anything, Paxton has lowered his arm slot. His release point is down several inches, from where it had been. The way Paxton describes it, this is his natural slot, and it certainly looks more comfortable to the eye. Paxton has settled on better mechanics, and it’s among the reasons why he’s gotten so good.
To Giolito, now. There’s something I was just never able to shake.
Giolito was about as good a pitching prospect as there is. But when he debuted with the Nationals, he was ineffective. Here are two screenshots from 2016, in the same style as the Paxton pairs above.
Giolito, of course, is right-handed, while Paxton is left-handed. And Giolito’s glove arm wasn’t quite so exaggerated. But Giolito had similar traits, right down to the over-the-top delivery. As the Nationals thought about trading Giolito, and then as the Nationals did trade Giolito, I couldn’t stop thinking about Giolito as Paxton. I wondered whether he might benefit from similar adjustments. It was only a thought, and nothing scientific, but it stuck in my head nevertheless.
The other day, in a spring-training start, Giolito struck out a whole bunch of Cubs. Two more screenshots.
It’s evident in the first picture that Giolito has lowered his glove arm. And it certainly looks, in the second picture, that Giolito has also lowered his arm slot. It’s spring training, and spring training doesn’t provide regular-season data, so you could say I don’t have proof. That’s true! But I do, at least, have more pictures. Here are two shots of Giolito from his last outing in 2017.
And here are two more shots from the recent spring game.
Last season, with the White Sox, Giolito raised his slot a little bit. From the looks of things, he’s gone back down and then some, such that he’s a little more around the shoulder than on top of it. Again, he’s not coming straight from the side, but assuming Giolito isn’t injured, this wouldn’t be a coincidence. This would be an intentional adjustment, with the idea of keeping Giolito’s body more in sync.
One consequence of lowering your arm slot is that you get more side-to-side movement, and you do less up and down. A 12-to-6 curveball might go 1-to-7, or 2-to-8. Another consequence for certain pitchers can be better location, and while it’s not like we can sit here and say for sure that Giolito will boost his strike rate by several points, he’s coming off a very impressive highlight reel. I mean, I get it — by definition, highlight reels include only highlights. But, look at this damn changeup.
Look at this damn breaking ball.
Look at this other damn breaking ball.
Giolito finished with eight strikeouts in four innings. No, it wasn’t a flawless start. There was a home run. It’s 2018. There’s usually a home run. But last year, Giolito struck out just 19% of his opponents. He’s always been expected to do better than that, and he certainly should do better than that, with the stuff he was most recently throwing. At least in this one spring game, Giolito had four pitches working, and it caught my eye. Less important to me is how the pitches moved. More important is that they went where they were supposed to. Giolito looked comfortable with his delivery.
And there was another thing. The White Sox broadcast talked to Don Cooper during the middle of the game, after Giolito had thrown his final pitch. According to Cooper, Giolito had been throwing his fastball around 94-95 miles per hour. As I’ll note one more time, it’s spring training, which means we don’t get confirmation here from Statcast. We sort of have to take Cooper at his word. But, what if Giolito is throwing 94-95? Last season, he threw just 5% of his fastballs at least 94. He hung around the 92-93 range, down a tick or so from where he was with the Nationals. Giolito’s fastball was once considered perhaps the best in the minors, and some of that zip could be returning. Here is a little support, from Daryl Van Schouwen a few weeks back.
On a more intriguing note, [Giolito] touched 95 mph, also getting swings and misses with his big curve. Last season, he worked effectively with a 92-93 mph four-seam fastball by moving it up and down to change hitters’ eye levels, and now he hopes to up the ante by bringing back the mid-90s heat that helped make him a No. 16 draft pick and top-tier prospect of the Washington Nationals.
“I’m hoping that’ll be more the norm, throw some 95s in there, a little bit of a higher velocity,’’ Giolito said. “I feel like I’m using my body a little bit better than I was last year.”
Maybe Giolito’s velocity was down on purpose. More likely, he’s benefiting from adjustments to his preparation and mechanics. At the end of February, Giolito talked about how he wanted to get into the mid-90s again. The other day, over four innings in the spring, he was apparently able to do just that. A naturally-achieved velocity boost should be a good thing for any pitcher, and here we might think of Paxton once more. Different delivery, more velocity, potentially better command. Paxton’s breakout took place almost overnight. We’ll have to see if Giolito’s command keeps up, but if nothing else right now, he’s doing enough to intrigue.
Without more information, we can’t say that Lucas Giolito is about to be an ace. We can say that he seems to be throwing harder. We can say that he seems to be throwing differently, in a way that might improve his location. Giolito doesn’t need to add a pitch. The pitches are all there. He needs to make the pitches do what he wants. If Giolito’s in the process of clearing that hurdle, then there’s not much else that can get in his way.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.