Lucas Giolito on Striking a Balance Between Smart and Simple

For Lucas Giolito, KISS doesn’t mean Keep It Simple Stupid. Given his intellectual curiosity — picking Max Scherzer’s brain didn’t hurt — the acronym more aptly equates to Keep It Simple Smart.

Giolito is now in the White Sox organization, having been acquired by Chicago from Washington in December’s Adam Eaton mini-blockbuster. Blessed with a big arm and a made-for-movies persona, the 6-foot-6 righty projects as a front-line starter, but only if he can keep his delivery in sync. That was an issue in last year’s six-game cameo with the Nationals, when he allowed 39 baserunners in 21.1 innings.

The 22-year-old former first-round pick believes that striking the right balance is the secret to future success. Being studious and cerebral comes naturally to Giolito, but at the same time, he understands that simplicity is a pitcher’s friend.

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Giolito on how analytics impact his thought process: “It’s tough, because they make it a little more complicated, and when I’m pitching I like to make it super simple. But things like spin rate and extension play a role in, ‘How good is your stuff?’ What I especially looked at last year was… usually, I’m a big extension guy. On my fastball, I’ll get seven-foot-whatever.

“I was looking at some numbers, and saw that I was down to six-foot-eight, six-nine, six-whatever. That’s not what I should be doing. Sure enough, video showed that I was flying open and yanking everything. So that stuff can be very helpful. Same thing with spin rate. Is the ball coming out of your hand at its best right now? It used to just be a feel thing, and now you can actually look at the numbers to back it up.

“I guess the way I’d say it is that analytics are tools that help. For a lot of stuff, you can just feel it, like, ‘I yanked that one and I know what adjustment I need to make.’ But after the fact, you can look at the analytics of it — you can look at the numbers — and that will confirm what you already thought, based on what you were feeling.”

On his delivery and losing extension: “Last year, I tried to make adjustments to my mechanics to be more efficient, or to get more behind the ball, and it didn’t work out for me. I think I overanalyzed it. I really got in my head about mechanics — what felt good and what didn’t feel good — to the point where nothing was feeling good.

“Did that cause me to lose some extension? Probably, but it could stem from so many things that it’s hard to say. Lack of strength, you’re not using your legs, you’re not using the right muscles. If you’re just a hair drifting… that can throw off everything, especially since I’m tall.

“In the offseason, I got back to focusing on my main points. I have to keep my head behind the ball — I have to allow myself to get to a good position — and then just let it go from there.”

On how less extension impacted his fastball: “I had less perceived velocity and less velocity overall. It was 100% both of those things. I went from throwing in the mid-90s to throwing 91-92. And it was flatter. For me, it’s all about… I throw from up here, so when I’m right I get that good downward angle. It’s harder to square up a ball that’s coming like this than a ball that’s coming like that. But when you’re yanking the ball, not only can you see it kind of cut down and away, it doesn’t have good life on it. It’s not popping the mitt. It’s kind of dying reaching home plate, and guys tee off on it.

“Basically, I was losing angle. You can throw 100-102 mph, but guys will start to time it up if it’s coming in super flat. You see guys throwing sinkers, and guys throwing the ball where it almost seems like it’s rising, even though that’s not really possible. That’s the spin-rate thing, invisiballs, and all that. But to be throwing a flat fastball that’s not doing anything… it isn’t going to work.”

On his focus going into 2017: “I wouldn’t say mechanics are a big focus anymore. I’ve pretty much let go of all the stuff I was working on last year. I was kind of messing myself up thinking about it, and trying to fix all of these things. Now I’m just focusing on a few key things. Like I said, I need to keep my head back behind the rubber, and try to throw north to south with a good straight line. That’s about it. When I focus on that, and make it simple, everything seems to follow.

“Along with being smart and simple with my delivery, probably the biggest thing is throwing my curveball for a strike. My curveball moves a lot — it’s a good pitch to put guys away with — but to be able to throw it for a strike 0-0, or in any count, would be huge for me. That way, guys won’t just be waiting for it late. It will be a weapon at any point.”

On improving his curveball command: “I’m doing a feel drill with my curveball. I’m having the catcher — my throwing partner — set up close, and I’m just kind of flipping it. Instead of constantly throwing it full speed, I’m getting that feel of flipping it out in front, and from there it becomes second nature. It becomes, ‘OK, the fastball feels natural, and now the curveball is just Boom! Boom! Boom!’ It becomes, ‘OK, this is where I am when I’m throwing it for a strike, this is where I am when I’m trying to bury it for a strikeout.’

“Then there are the focal points. I’ll be focusing a specific spot, like the top of the catcher’s mask, instead of throwing it to the glove. My curveball is going to be moving down, so sometimes I need to start it more up. That adjustment is all about location, as opposed to trying to do something different with the pitch.

“It’s pretty much the same curveball each time, unless maybe it’s a two-strike count. If I’m trying to really bury one, I’ll firm up the pressure on my middle finger, trying to get a little more of that bite, make the pitch a little firmer. Outside of that, it’s going to be the same pitch.”

On Max Scherzer, and striking a balance between cerebral and simple: “I think it’s good to be cerebral. I’ve met guys… Max Scherzer, in particular, is always thinking about how he’s going to put this batter away. He’s going through counts in his head before they happen. He’s analyzing an at-bat that might have happened two innings ago, and how it’s playing into the situation he’s in right now.

“At the same time, he keeps it simple. Max attacks hitters with his fastball, he throws his slider, he strikes guys out. Striking that balance takes a lot of maturity. I think it also takes a lot of consistent work — finding that work ethic and routine, and then being able to analyze things while also keeping it simple and just attacking.

“Max and I would talk pitching all the time. He’s a veteran guy, and the way he approaches pitching is at a very high level. He set a good example, and gave me something to strive for.”

On learning to control his emotions: “The White Sox have a sports psychologist available. I think every organization does. For me, breathing is a big thing. When you’re in the big leagues, if things aren’t going well, they can speed up really fast. In the minor leagues, it’s easier, as a pitcher, to control the pace of your game. For me, as a big-league rookie, when things started to speed up, they really sped up. It can be hard to control that. Controlling your breath, and using that as a tool to slow things down and come back to center, will go a long way toward helping you focus on that next batter. I think that’s something I’ll be able to do a lot better going forward.”





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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Mattabattacola
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Mattabattacola

Seems like a smart guy!