Lucas Giolito Knows What He Needs To Do To Get Back on Track

Lucas Giolito
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Lucas Giolito is one of the more intriguing free-agent pitchers currently on the market. Still just 29 years old, the veteran right-hander is coming off of a sub-par season — a 4.88 ERA and a 5.27 FIP for three different clubs — but his overall resume is that of a solid big league starter who reliably takes the mound every five days. His 947 innings pitched over the last six seasons are eighth-most in MLB, and his 167 starts are tied for fifth-most. All told, he has a 4.43 ERA, a 4.44 FIP, and a 25.3% strikeout rate since debuting with the Nationals in 2016. His best season was 2019, when he went 14–9 with a 3.41 ERA, a 3.43 FIP, a 32.3% strikeout rate, and 5.2 WAR with the White Sox.

With his pending free agency in mind, I approached Giolito in early September — a day after he’d made his first of six appearances with the Guardians — to talk about where he’s at in his career.


David Laurila: I first interviewed you in 2017. How would you describe your evolution as a pitcher since that time?

Lucas Giolito: “Unfortunately, it hasn’t been going in a good direction recently. As for how I’ve evolved, I definitely use the slider more. The longer you’ve been in the league, the more guys get used to you, and sometimes the changeup is working great and sometimes it isn’t. Up until 2021, I was pretty much a two-pitch guy. I had a slider for show, but it was mainly fastball-changeup. That was effective for me, whereas now guys will sometimes sit on the changeup. Having that slider to go in the other direction, I can show a different look, especially to righties.”

Laurila: Do you feel that your changeup is as good now as it was in your best seasons? I’m thinking primarily about movement profile and speed differential.

Giolito: “That’s interesting. I think it’s pretty much the same. The thing is, in ’19 and ’20, when I used it a lot and it was really effective, I didn’t actually pay much attention to the metrics on it. So it’s really hard to say. I do know that the velocity is pretty much the same.”

Laurila: What about your fastball velocity?

Giolito: “That’s roughly the same, it’s still low- to mid-90s. My velo was kind of down earlier this year, but I made a mechanical adjustment while I was with the Angels [from July 26 to August 31] and got it to tick back up a little. A lot of that was getting back on top of the fastball, which also helped me get a little more ride and hop.”

Laurila: The temporary dip in velocity aside, why haven’t you been as a good this year?

Giolito: “I think the issue has mostly been lack of execution. When I was really effective, I would pound the zone with the changeup. I would throw it for a strike pretty much whenever I wanted. I’ve found that when I’m not having success, my fastball command is off, and I’ll also throw too many changeups that aren’t competitive. I’ll throw them in the dirt or high out of the zone.”

Laurila: Pitching analytics are a well-known Guardians strength. Have you received any meaningful suggestions in the short time you’ve been here?

Giolito: “Not really. I’ve been bouncing around, this is my third team in just over a month, and in these short stints, it’s more like, ‘Hey, we want to help you, whatever you need.’ Cleveland has been fantastic. I’ve only been here for a few days, but from [pitching coach] Carl [Willis] to the analytics guys, it’s been like that. It’s, ‘We want to help,’ but it’s also, ‘Be yourself and pitch to your strengths.'”

Laurila: Last night’s outing [nine runs allowed in three innings against the Twins] obviously didn’t go well.

Giolito: “Games like that happen, but at the same time, I obviously want to help this team win. I’m always about open communication. If they have data for me and things to work on, I’m going to do that. I also have my own stuff that I know that I need to improve. Yesterday, for example, I was having trouble getting my fastball to my glove side. A lot of them were leaking back middle and to my arm side, and the hitters were able to hone in on that. There was a lack of command overall, especially with my changeup and my slider. As a result, they were able to pick their spots and do damage against me.”

Laurila: How can you get back to your previous levels of success?

Giolito: “I think the biggest thing for me is finding a way to consistently command my fastball to the top of the zone. If I can throw the majority of my fastballs in that part of the zone, it will make everything else more effective. The way I pitch, getting extension and having ride on the fastball, has always made my changeup more effective. Basically, I need to command that better.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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4 months ago

I think velocity may be a bigger concern for him than he thinks. From 2019 – 2021 his vFA 94 MPH or better each year and he had 11.3 WAR in 72 starts and 427.2 IP.

Every other year he has been under 94 MPH and has totaled 2.6 WAR in 106 starts and 586 IP.

During those better years, his wFB/C was 0.94 and in the other years it has never been better than 0.23 and every other year was negative. Although in 2021 he had vFA 94.0 and wFB/C of 0.09.

Maybe it is correlation and not causation, but it seems that throwing harder than 94 is somehow important for his success.