Don't have an account?
Join the Best Live Fantasy Chat Community!

Lost password? [X]

Receive free daily analysis:

NFL    NBA    MLB

Already have an account? Log in here.

[X]

Forgot Password


[X]

Lucas Giolito Has Arrived (For Real)


As a fan of Lucas Giolito and his potential for the last couple of years, I have to admit I'm bummed about his last outing. A complete game, four-hit shutout on the road against the Houston Astros, MLB's top offensive team???

This would be great, except couldn't you have waited until I finished this article first? By mid-May it was obvious he was already on to something with his improved control. Then there's the fact I didn't have the guts to put him in my rotation days after picking him up in a 12-team league because I thought this would be a blip on an otherwise fantastic 2019 season. Turns out I was wrong, as we all were about Giolito this year.

As someone who was taken at an ADP of 439 in NFBC leagues and went undrafted pretty much everywhere in competitive redraft leagues, Giolito surpassed expectations a long time ago. Here's the crazy part: he keeps getting better. While it's impossible to top his last performance, let's look at what specifically has gotten him to the point of achieving a long-awaited breakout and whether he can sustain it.

Editor's Note: Get our 2020 MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our draft kit, premium rankings, player projections and outlooks, our top sleepers, dynasty and prospect rankings, 20 preseason and in-season lineup tools, and over 200 days of expert DFS research and tools. Sign Up Now!

 

What a Difference a Year Makes

Giolito may not realistically win Comeback Player of the Year, since that's usually reserved for those who were missed large parts of the previous season due to injury or some other adverse situation. We don't award guys who stunk up the place and then suddenly got better when they were supposed to be good all along. But Giolito didn't just stink last year, his ratios were the equivalent of passing Mount Trashmore on the turnpike with your windows down and the AC off while a nervous skunk sits in the passenger side next to you.

Giolito was quite literally the worst in 2018. His 6.13 ERA was dead-last among qualified starters, supported by a 5.37 SIERA. His 4.67 BB/9? Also the worst. His 13 losses tied for fifth-most in the majors and he was also last with a 63.5% strand rate.

Wait, about that last part... Usually, a low strand rate means a pitcher was at least somewhat unlucky, doesn't it? It's an oversimplification to use it as a pitching version of BABIP but in some sense, these things usually even out over time. In 2017, when Giolito posted a 2.38 ERA in seven starts and looked ready to fulfill the promise of a former first-round pick and top-10 overall prospect (as high as #3 before the 2016 season), he posted a 92% LOB%. That would have been the best in the majors by five points, ahead of Clayton Kershaw's 87.4%. This year, Giolito has a 73.9% LOB%. Not great, not terrible, but at least acceptable. So why the big fluctuations?

One thing you'll find in common for most pitchers stuck with a low strand rate is a bad defense behind them. In 2018, the White Sox ranked 26th in Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) at -28.6. For context, Fangraphs defines anything below -20 as "Awful." They were followed, in order, by the Phillies, Mets, Orioles, and Blue Jays. It's no surprise then to see pitchers like Nick Pivetta, Jake Arrieta, Dylan Bundy, and former teammate James Shields all fall within the bottom 10 of strand rate. Lower the threshold to 100 IP and Marcus Stroman is the lowest, followed by Dylan Covey.

Bottom line: Giolito is better partially because his luck has turned around and his defense isn't nearly as terrible as last year. While they actually rank lower at 28th, it's at a mere -14 DEF. See - better! Of course, a pitcher can only blame his fielders so much, especially when he's walking 11.6% of all batters he faces. This brings us to our next point, control is good.

 

Control is Good

Control is generally a good thing. This applies but is not limited to: drone piloting, self-restraint at Happy Hour with your boss, and Marley Marl and Janet Jackson albums. It's really good for a pitcher who wants to stay in the big leagues. Giolito just didn't have it last year and now he does, sporting a 19.3 K-BB%. Aside from cutting down drastically on free passes, his strikeout rate has nearly doubled to 28.5%. That's quite a leap.

Here's how he is doing it - better pitch selection. Giolito is throwing his curveball less and he's eliminated his sinker completely. Giolito threw his sinker 20.5% of the time last year and it was hit more than all five of his pitch types at an xBA of .287 and a whiff rate of 12%. Now, Statcast doesn't even register the pitch. Instead, he's throwing his four-seamer more frequently and mixing in a changeup a quarter of the time.

He still relies mainly on his fastball, which has average spin and slightly above-average velocity (65th percentile) but he's keeping batters off-balance more often while eliminating his worst pitch. That doesn't account for the strikeout jump though. In that case, it's all about the slider.

 

It's All About the Slider

When he first came up in 2016, Giolito wasn't throwing a slider. Now, it's his main put away pitch, 23.7% of the time, generating a 53.8% Whiff%. Take a look at how his Whiffs per Swing have gone up on that one pitch alone.

By contrast, let's look at the recent trend for another right-handed starter of similar stature within the same division, Corey Kluber. His Whiffs per Swing rate on the slider was sky high once he began his All-Star run but fell off a cliff last year. It was at its lowest rate since his rookie year before he got hurt this season.

The former Cy Young winner, and All-Star for the past three years, is nine years older and is currently on the shelf with a broken arm, so this year is a wash for him anyway. That doesn't mean we can't imagine Giolito as a young Kluber based on this data, right?

 

Conclusion

Giolito's outlook is pointing up based on a number of factors. Strand rate can fluctuate, as can team context. His defense has been better (I didn't say good, just better) and his bullpen has held up. Strong work by Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera (it was one bad outing, OK?) have helped him reach a 6-1 record before June arrives. Those factors are out of a pitcher's control.

Giolito is taking control by asserting himself as a strikeout pitcher more so than a ground ball pitcher. The introduction of the slider more often and the elimination of an ineffective sinker have helped him achieve that goal. There's no need to worry about stranding runners if you don't give them the chance to put the ball in play in the first place, after all.

Many fantasy owners are skittish to buy into Giolito based on last year's nightmare season, reflected in the fact he was barely half-owned in all leagues before his domination of the Astros. That figure is now up to 64%, which means a decent amount of leagues still have him sitting on waivers ready to be claimed. If nothing else, those looking for pitching help in keeper leagues should see if a buy-low window still exists with a contender who owns Giolito. This would have been much easier to achieve a week ago but the gleeful owner who is content to "sell high" may take a fraction of his real value by thinking he is bound to crash and burn. You know better though.

More 2019 Fantasy Baseball Breakouts




More Recent Articles

 

Fantasy Football Starts and Sits: Conference Championships Matchups Analysis

Welcome to our NFL Conference Championships matchups analysis and start/sit column for fantasy football. We'll be covering both of the AFC and NFC contests from the Sunday slate, helping you make the best decisions for your DFS contests this weekend. Be sure to check back regularly because this article will be updated as news comes in regarding injuries... Read More


Conference Championships Fantasy Football Staff Rankings

Below you will find all of RotoBaller's fantasy football weekly rankings, tiers, player news and stats for the 2019 NFL season. Our Ranking Wizard displays our staff's rankings for various league formats, all in one easy place. Here's what you'll find: Weekly PPR Rankings Weekly Half-PPR Rankings Weekly Standard Rankings Dynasty League Rankings     Fantasy... Read More


Running Back ADP Winners and Losers: 2019 Season Review

I've always believed that it is easier to lose a fantasy championship than to win it on draft day. It makes sense, a sure-fire player is expected to reward his owners with a lower risk-factor than the other way around and thus they're always drafter earlier. If they end up as a season-long dud, though,... Read More


Dynasty Players to Sell in 2020

Pierre Camus and Chris Mangano share their top sell candidates for dynasty football leagues in the 2020 fantasy football preseason. Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well! Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210,... Read More


Biggest Surprises of 2019: Tight End

The 2019 NFL season was anything but predictable. I mean, the Tennessee Titans made the AFC title game! Andrew Luck retired right before the season! [Insert one of many, many other things here, because all lists need three items but I couldn't decide between all the possible third options.] One position where things at the... Read More


Wide Receiver ADP Winners and Losers: 2019 Season Review

I've always believed that it is easier to lose a fantasy championship than to win it on draft day. It makes sense, as sure-fire players are expected to reward his owners with a lower risk-factor than the other way around and thus they're always drafter earlier. If they put up a season-long dud, though, you'll... Read More


Biggest Busts of 2019: Quarterback

The 2019 NFL season is over, and it's time to look back on what happened. 2019 was a year where some quarterbacks -- Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen -- leaped up to the top of the fantasy charts, while other guys faded from where they were expected to perform. Today, I want to talk about three... Read More


Four and Out: Fantasy Outlooks for Divisional Round Losers

For the four teams that were eliminated in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, the offseason has begun. For many fantasy football owners, the days have already started counting down to next season. Owners in dynasty leagues have started to mull over their decisions.  How some guys perform in the playoffs can certainly alter... Read More


Quarterback ADP Winners and Losers: 2019 Season Review

I've always believed that it is easier to lose a fantasy championship than to win it on draft day. It makes sense, as sure-fire players are expected to reward their owners with a lower risk-factor than the other way around and thus they're always drafter earlier. If they put up a season-long dud, though, you'll... Read More


Biggest Busts of 2019: Wide Receivers

After a very interesting season of fantasy football action, many owners were left with a bitter taste in their mouth from a few of the “elite” NFL wide receivers. While Michael Thomas dominated and Julio Jones was his usual reliable self, not all was good if you played it safe by taking a receiver early.... Read More


Quarterback Risers and Fallers: 2019 Season Review

This article will examine the biggest risers and fallers at the quarterback position, which proved to be the most impactful in fantasy leagues as is often the case. Of the top-25 players in fantasy this season, 18 of them played the QB position and none of the 18 scored less than 280 fantasy points on... Read More


XFL Fantasy Football Rankings (Preseason)

As of this writing, there is exactly one month until XFL regular-season action begins. On February 8, the latest upstart professional league will kickoff (again) with spring football. It goes without saying that we hope it goes better than the first time, back in 2001, and lasts longer than the AAF. Before you settle in... Read More


Wide Receiver Risers and Fallers: 2019 Season Review

We continue our series covering the biggest risers and fallers of 2019 with the wide receiver position. I'll look at both 2018 and 2019 statistical outcomes from every player, contrast their performances, calculate differences in each category and come up with the most prominent names going forward. This past season, receivers didn't dominate in fantasy,... Read More


2020 Early Sleepers and Draft Targets: Running Back

It is going to be almost impossible to win your fantasy football league in 2020 without a strong set of running backs, even in today’s pass-happy NFL. While quarterbacks and wide receivers have gained importance in fantasy football in recent years, building your fantasy roster around your running back corps is still one of the... Read More


Top Rebound Candidates for 2020

Is it way too early to be thinking about fantasy football for the 2020 season? Yes. Are we going to do it anyway? You bet we are. While coaches, coordinators, players, and rookies will change some things, you're still going to be able to get an idea of where certain players are going to be... Read More