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From "Small Star" to All-Star: Lucas Giolito's Complete 180

As many of its fans know, Baseball is an incredibly difficult sport to play, as you'll fail far more times than you succeed. And if you've ever played baseball competitively, you likely know that it's a long, stressful journey to the top. Even if you manage to make it there, you may be one of the worst players in the league, someone who rides the bench. Some players can't ever work through what holds them back, but others find a way to overcome obstacles and become dominant. In this case, Lucas Giolito managed to do just that. At one time, Giolito was one of the worst pitchers in the league, but has become an 'Ace' seemingly overnight.

On July 13, 2012, just a day before his eighteenth birthday, a then 17-year-old Lucas Giolito began his journey to the Major Leagues by agreeing to a contract with the Washington Nationals a mere 30 seconds(!) prior to the deadline for drafted players to do so. Before signing his $2.9 million deal with the Nationals, Giolito had been deemed a superb prospect who even had the potential to go to first overall in the 2012 MLB draft. However, teams grew concerned about his elbow, as he sprained his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) during his senior year of high school. In the 2012 MLB draft, the former potential top overall pick fell to the Nationals at the pick 16. Weeks later, Giolito got Tommy John surgery to repair his UCL.

Lucas Giolito at the 2012 MLB Draft

Like many MLB prospects, Giolito then worked his way through the Nationals' farm system. In 2013, the Summer following his Tommy John surgery, Lucas made 8 starts for the Gulf Coast Nationals of the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League and posted a 2.78 ERA. Shortly thereafter, Giolito was promoted to the Auburn Doubledays of the Class-A Short Season New York-Penn League, allowing only 1 earned run in the 16 innings he pitched. By 2014, Giolito had pitched his first full season of professional Baseball with the Hagerstown Suns of the Class-A South Atlantic League, where he posted a 10-2 record and 2.20 ERA, along with 110 strikeouts and 28 walks over 20 starts. His stats with the Hagerstown Suns earned him the 2014 South Atlantic League's Most Valuable Pitcher and Top Minor League Prospect Awards; Giolito also pitched in the All-Stars Futures Game. The following year, Giolito began the 2015 season with the Potomac Nationals of the Class-A Advanced Carolina League and was promoted mid-season to the Harrisburg Senators of the Class-AA Eastern League. In 2016, the Nationals assigned Giolito to the Senators out of Spring Training; during that 2016 season, Giolito received a promotion to the Syracuse Chiefs of the Class-AAA International League.

Lucas Giolito’s Topps Baseball Card with the Potomac Nationals

Things continued to move quickly for Giolito, as he then made his Major League debut with the Nationals on June 28th, 2016 in a game against the New York Mets. In this outing, Giolito recorded 4 shutout innings, allowing 1 hit, 2 walks and logging 1 strikeout. During his time with the Nationals that season, Giolito pitched 21.1 innings over the course of 6 appearances, giving up 26 hits, 18 runs (16 of them earned), 7 home runs and walking 12 while striking out 11 batters; this amounted to a pedestrian 6.75 ERA. On December 7th, 2016, Giolito was traded by the Nationals, along with Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning, to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Outfielder Adam Eaton. At the time, Giolito was Washington's top-ranked prospect and and Baseball Prospectus' third-ranked prospect.

Giolito with the Washington Nationals

In 2017, his first season in the White Sox organization, Giolito was assigned to Chicago's Triple-A affiliate, the Charlotte Knights. He spent the majority of the 2017 season in Charlotte before being called up to start against the Detroit Tigers on August 27th; Giolito earned his first MLB win that night, as the White Sox defeated the Tigers by a score of 7-1 (Happy 3 Year Anniversary, Lucas!). In that game, Giolito tossed seven scoreless innings, giving up just three hits while striking out four batters. In his first season with the White Sox, albeit an abbreviated one, Giolito finished with a 3-3 record and 2.38 ERA in 7 starts.

Following the 2017 season, many people felt confident about the impact Giolito could make as part of Chicago's starting rotation for years to come. And, in the midst of a rebuild, that was exactly the kind of hope that the White Sox and their fans needed. However, the very next season, Giolito suddenly had those very same people doubting his future with the club.

Giolito following a start in 2018

According to Baseball Reference, Lucas Giolito's 2018 season was one of the worst of all qualifying MLB pitchers. Giolito made 32 starts that year and went just 10-13 (a .435 winning %) while leading the Major Leagues in earned runs (118) and leading the American League in walks (90). He posted a 6.13 ERA overall and a 7.80 ERA in home games. Since 1901, there have been only 27 seasons in which a pitcher threw a minimum of 170 innings and recorded an ERA above 6.00 and Giolito recorded one of them (not exactly something to be proud of).

Following the completion of the 2018 season, Giolito went back home to work with his high school pitching coach to entirely retool his throwing motion. As Giolito recounted, his pitching coach had him work with a weighted ball and perform several different throwing motions before he was allowed to throw a baseball again. Once he became comfortable with this routine, Giolito noticed that his throwing motion had become shorter (as pictured below).

Giolito also admitted that he believed a major flaw in his performance had been overthinking. During that same off-season, Giolito said that he focused on completely changing his in-game mentality and way of thinking as part of his workouts. He was a new man mentally, not just physically. Giolito claimed that his new pitching mechanics and shorter arm motion left less room for error, because his arm was now in a "more ready-to-fire position than it had been in the past." According to Fangraphs, Giolito's fastball velocity increased to 94.6 MPH in 2019, a whole 2 MPH faster than the previous season. In addition, he drastically improved his change-up, a pitch that had plagued him in the past. The results were quite noticeable.

That very next season, Giolito's vast improvement left people in awe. After posting a 6.13 ERA in 2018, Giolito lowered it to 3.41 in 2019. According to Baseball Reference, in his 29 starts and 176.2 innings pitched, Giolito led the Major Leagues in complete games with 3 and in shutouts with 2. He allowed 131 hits, 35 fewer than 2018; Giolito also allowed just 67 earned runs after yielding 118 the year prior. He also cut down his walks from 90 in 2018 to just 57 in 2019. The biggest change for Giolito, though? Strikeouts, which jumped from 125 in 2018 to a stellar 228 in 2019. These much-improved statistics earned Lucas Giolito an All-Star nomination and a 6th place finish in American League Cy Young Award voting.

Upon the completion of his remarkable 2019 season, Giolito turned a lot of his doubters into believers and gave many White Sox fans hope in the midst of the organization's long rebuild. Giolito continued his dominance into the now-abbreviated 2020 season, as he pitched his way to a no-hitter on August 25th. For a kid who was destined to go into show business, as his family is full of actors, Lucas Giolito has instead cemented himself as a bona fide ace in the White Sox rotation and leaves many hopeful of what he can accomplish next in Baseball.

Giolito after his first MLB no-hitter on August 25

- Gabby (proud White Sox fan)


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