In 2018, Lucas Giolito’s stat line could be summed up aptly by a large dumpster, set ablaze, and someone standing nearby pouring gasoline on it.
In a word, Giolito was baseball’s worst qualifying pitcher in 2018. He walked more hitters and had the highest ERA of any starter eligible for the ERA title. Fortunately for the Sox and their fans, he spent the lead-up to the 2019 season overhauling his mental approach and completely re-working his mechanics.
It led to a 14-9 record in 2019, with a 3.41 ERA, which got him a nod on the AL All-Star team in July. He tossed three complete games, two of those shutouts, on the road against two of baseball’s top offenses in the Twins and Astros.
The accolades continued once the season concluded, as his fellow peers have nominated him as the AL Comeback Player of the Year (Texas’ Hunter Pence and Kansas City’s Jorge Soler are the other two players nominated by the MLBPA). He also figures to be in line for a nomination to the overall CPOY award, and a few Cy Young Award votes too.
Two stats jump out in Giolito’s transformation from 2018 to 2019: in 32 starts in 2018, Giolito walked 90 batters, and allowed 118 earned runs over 173 1/3 innings of work. He followed that up in 2019 with 57 free passes issued and allowing only 67 earned runs over 176 2/3 innings while starting three fewer games. He also struck out 228 batters, a total only two other White Sox pitchers have ever reached in a single season.
The fact that he threw 3 1/3 more innings in 2019 than the year before, despite starting three fewer games is significant too, as it meant he went more than a full inning deeper in games, which saved the bullpen for Ricky Renteria and Don Cooper. Should Giolito continue to go 6-7 innings in most starts in 2020, that will greatly benefit whatever bullpen arms the Sox employ.
Can Giolito continue to pitch at this elite level in 2020 and beyond? It’s certainly possible. He showed he can be dominant against elite offenses (ask the 107-win Astros and 101-win Twins), but whether or not he continues to be that dominant will depend on how the league adjusts to him, and how he responds to that. He has a very good pitching coach in Don Cooper working with him, and that can only help his case.