On another scorching hot summer afternoon in Washington, Sunday the Nationals sent their top prospect, RHP Lucas Giolito, to the mound to start against the Colorado Rockies. The 22-year-old Giolito scuffled in three previous starts last month, pitching only 11 innings with a 4.91 ERA and would again be challenged against one of the top offenses in the National League.
Sunday Giolito pitched 5 innings for Washington, allowing 4 earned runs on 6 hits and 2 walks against 2 strikeouts. Giolito threw 100 pitches (64 strikes / 36 balls) in this outing, generating 5 ground outs against 4 fly outs, plus two home runs. According to BrooksBaseball.net Giolito averaged 94.18mph on his fastball, 81.41mph on his curveball and 84.81mph on his changeup. By my notes, he threw a total of 71 fastballs, 16 curveballs and 13 changeups.
From a scouting perspective, Giolito’s fastball showed plus velocity and he has the ability to both sink the ball and have it run arm-side. Unfortunately he struggled both commanding and controlling the strike zone, throwing 1st pitch strikes to only 9 of the 22 hitters he faced. In addition, he missed his target regularly and left the ball in the middle of the plate, while also struggling to get his fastball low in the strike zone. Besides the two home runs, many other fastballs were punished for long outs. In recent years Giolito has scuffled locating his fastball and this outing did nothing to quell these concerns.
Also, although it comes with the reputation as one of the top pitches in the minor leagues, Giolito struggled with his curveball and had inconsistent results. The first 2 innings Giolito threw 7 curves, of which only 1 was a quality offering; conversely, he found the feel in the 3rd inning, making 8 fairly consistently good pitches the last 3 innings. My only complaint would be he should throw it more often, especially with 2 strikes, and have the confidence it will get big league hitters out.
Perhaps the biggest positive from this appearance was Giolito’s changeup, which flashed excellent arm-side run and split-finger type movement. Of the 13 he threw, 3 induced pure whiffs and a couple others generated weak contact from batters. It was an easy “55” or better pitch. Giolito only threw 3 changeups to righties on Sunday, something I would encourage him to do more so going forward.
In terms of mechanics, Giolito seems to be making a noticeable effort to quiet his arms and upper body during his delivery, something I noticed in his debut last month. Additionally, he seems to have simplified the early part of his windup, using what looks like a shorter first step off the rubber. I cannot find adequate video from last month to confirm this, so take it with a grain of salt. However, there is little question he is attempting to quiet his delivery, likely in a direct effort to improve his fastball command.
Giolito’s Debut, Credit Jon Feng
Overall this start highlighted the biggest present weakness in Giolito’s arsenal, namely his fastball command and control. He struggled keeping his fastball in the lower-third of the strike zone, continually locating the pitch above the hitters’ belt. Additionally, he had difficulties throwing his fastball on the inner third, leaving several pitches in the heart of the plate. As a result, this forced Giolito to primarily throw the ball away on the outer-third later in the outing. As mentioned above, he struggled getting ahead in the count, and by falling behind, this allowed the opposing batters’ to get comfortable in the box and lean out across the plate. He must improve his ability to work the corners and avoid the middle of the plate if he wants to be successful in the major leagues.
One other area of concern is Giolito’s inability to miss bats, as his 2 strikeouts and 8 total whiffs indicate. He has excellent stuff and should be producing a much larger number of whiffs – perhaps much of this is attributable to his lack of 1st pitch strikes and fastball command, but someone with 3 plus or better pitches should be generating nearly double the swings-and-misses.
Finally I finish analyzing this start primarily with the reminders that the transition from the minors to the majors is extremely difficult, and the importance of fastball command. Giolito can get minor league hitters out even pitching in the middle of the plate due to his impressive arsenal, yet major leaguers will punish mistakes like these. One must remember that although the repertoire is major league quality, Giolito has thrown only thrown 377 professional innings and still needs to improve his weaknesses.
If he continues to refine his delivery and command the strike zone while gaining confidence in his pitches, Giolito profiles as a potential #2 starter in the near future. Giolito reaching his enormous potential almost exclusively rides on if he can improve his fastball command. Assuming he stays healthy, I expect improvement with Giolito in 2017 and a breakout for him in 2018. Be patient as Giolito is Chance the Rapper 5 years ago.