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 any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off. Exclusive access to our Draft Kit, premium rankings, projections, player outlooks, top prospects, dynasty rankings, 15 in-season lineup tools, and over 200 days of expert DFS research. 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

 

Best Waiver Wire Pickups from 2019

Each and every year we see an incredible number of players step foot on the NFL gridiron. Just in 2019, using Pro-Football-Reference.com Play Index, a total of 2,025 players took part in at least one game while one (Emmanuel Sanders) did the impossible and played 17 (!) games in the regular season as he was... Read More


Tight End VOS (Values Over Starter): 2019 Season In Context

The 2019 fantasy football season is over. That is not something we like to say considering the empty path we have ahead of us until we reach draft season again in eight months. The good thing about it, though, is that we have plenty of time to analyze what happened during the past few weeks... Read More


Biggest Surprises of 2019: Running Back

The 2019 NFL season was an interesting year for the running back position. Christian McCaffrey was the overall RB1, but some of the other top players fell below expectations. That led to some interesting final results when the final season standings came around. And while some of those -- Dalvin Cook as the RB3, Leonard... Read More


Quarterback VOS (Values Over Starter): 2019 Season In Context

The 2019 fantasy football season is over. That is not something we like to say considering the empty path we have ahead of us until we reach draft season again in eight months. The good thing about it, though, is that we have plenty of time to analyze what happened during the past few weeks... Read More


2019 RotoBaller NFL Challenge - And The @Fleaflicker Winner Is...

What a season, RotoBallers. Fantasy football is always a fun, interesting, and long season - filled with injuries, breakout players, and different strategies. It takes stamina and endurance to win the marathon, and we're here today to recognize those who pulled it off. With 343 teams - across two divisions - competing to be crowned champ... Read More


Introducing the 2020 Rookie Tight End Class

Out of all the skill positions, tight end is the one where rookies have the most issue making an immediate impact. But there's still always some value at every position in every NFL Draft, and the 2020 one is no exception, even if people are very down on this year's crop of tight ends. Let's... Read More


Can a New Coach Fix Baker Mayfield in 2020?

Another season has passed and another disappointment by Browns fans has been realized. Baker Mayfield got the head coach he wanted in Freddie Kitchens in 2019. In 2020, hopefully he's got the one he needs in Kevin Stefanski. Last season, under Kitchens, Mayfield had a coach he could control and manipulate. He did just that... Read More


Wide Receiver VOS (Values Over Starter): 2019 Season In Context

The one (and only) good thing about fantasy football season ending is that we have plenty of time to analyze what happened during the past few months and put performances into context to prepare for next season. As football is an ever-evolving game, though, it makes sense to assess how good players were in fantasy... Read More


The King's Keeper Corner: NFL Postseason Impacts on Player Outlooks

With a break in the postseason NFL action, it is time to reflect on what we have seen in the playoffs so far and how certain performances will affect fantasy football outlooks in keeper and dynasty formats. How players respond and what they deliver at the most intense and critical times of the season can... Read More


Introducing Value Over Starter Football Metrics

When it comes to fantasy sports, we're always looking for the highest possible Return On Investment or ROI. This concept is easy to understand: in both Daily Fantasy and re-draft/fantasy leagues, ROI would come down to how many points a player returns relative to his salary, or the price you paid (given his ADP on... Read More


Biggest Breakouts of 2019: Quarterback

2019 was a very interesting season of fantasy football, to say the least. It's safe to say no one was banking on the season that we saw from Lamar Jackson but he wasn't the only one to stand out. At the quarterback position, we saw some really exciting players start to shine and some older... Read More


Goodbye Runners, Hello Pass-Catching RBs: 2019 Season Trends

As the 2019 summer kept going we all had two things in our minds with regard to September's fantasy drafts and both of them were related to running backs: Where in the world are Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon and when will they be back? It made sense back then (and it still does now,... Read More


Where Does 2019 Rank Historically Among ADP Movers?

I have worked on a season-review series of articles in which I have analyzed the biggest winners and losers in terms of ADP entering draft season compared to the end of the year final results. It was plenty of fun looking back at the gambles most of us took which ultimately paid off, but also... Read More


Biggest Busts of 2019: Tight End

2019 was not the record-breaking season for tight ends 2018 was. San Francisco’s George Kittle (most receiving yards for a TE in a season) and Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz (most receptions for a TE in a season) did not break the records they set last season, although both were fine for fantasy players. Kansas City’s Travis... Read More


Rushing Quarterbacks Are Becoming Necessary

The 2019 fantasy season is over. We are all thinking about what to do come 2020 draft day. So let me ask you something. What if I offer you the chance of drafting a quarterback who is a lock to finish the season with 270 fantasy points? Would you take him and make him your... Read More