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The Chicago White Sox have seen disappointing seasons from both Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez

What’s behind the struggles of two starting pitchers among the top 30 of all prospects?

Chicago White Sox v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

After an auspicious season in 2016 by Adam Eaton for the Chicago White Sox, which drew the eyes of the Washington Nationals front office, Eaton was dealt to Washington and the White Sox received quite the bundle of prospects. Three top 100 prospects and two in the top 30 of whom all three are starting pitchers. The two top-30 prospects are recognized around the league as Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez.

They both received between seven and eight starts in 2017 with mildly unsuccessful time with the big league club. Things were looking up though when both made the club out of spring training this year. However, both have had a SIERA over 5.00, and the only other pitcher to do that is Baltimore OriolesAndrew Cashner.

So I wanted to dissect their struggles individually a little bit and see what could be causing such bad numbers besides being inexperienced against major league hitters.

First I’d like to talk about Giolito. The very first thing I look at when a pitcher is really struggling or having great success is how well they tunnel their pitches. As good as your raw “stuff” is, poor tunneling will greatly inhibit success. Even pitchers with below average “stuff” can dominate if their pitches are tunneled properly. Logically this makes sense because poor tunneling allows hitters to lay off your outside stuff and hammer anything you throw in the strike zone since they know what is coming. Well, the charts below show Giolito is excellent at tunneling all of his pitches.

Texas Leaguers

From the side-view they all tunnel until below the 15 foot mark, and from the top-view they tunnel until around 20 feet. So if it’s not the tunneling, what is behind his horrendous season? First, his fastballs have been atrocious in terms of results. He’s walking 26 percent of batters faced with the four-seam fastball while only striking out 17 percent of batters with the pitch. His slugging percentage is approaching .490 and his two-seamer is even worse at .557.

Between the two fastballs he’s allowed 17 of the 22 total home runs he’s allowed this season. The reason the home run numbers are so high and the strikeouts are so low is because he’s locating a large amount of pitches in the middle of the strike zone, which has boosted his called strike rate to 20.5 percent. However, his whiff rate is only 6.1 percent and 12.9 percent of his fastballs thrown are put into play.

Another aspect is how well his secondary pitches are preforming, mainly the slider and changeup. His curveball has been decent, but it’s getting hit for a .377 wOBA. The slider and changeup have been responsible for 47.4 percent of the strikeouts Giolito has. His .253 wOBA and 16.7 percent whiff rate from the two pitches also backup how well the slider and changeup have been doing.

Now, there is a easy explanation behind Giolito’s struggles with the curveball and it really boils down to location. The curve has a .422 wOBA when thrown in the zone as well as a .425 wOBA when thrown along the edges. When he throws the curve outside of the zone completely, it has a .120 wOBA.

If Giolito can turn the curveball into a pitch he throws exclusively out of the zone and use the changeup and slider more often to give hitters a different look, it shouldn’t be too difficult from him to overcome his past failures.

Next I wanted to dive into Lopez’s struggles. Again, the tunneling is the first thing I check and while Lopez’s tunneling isn’t as good as Giolito’s it’s right around what you’d expect from a young prospect in his first full season.

Texas Leaguers

There are a few things that really stuck out to me at my initial glance. The most noticeable thing is the horrible strikeout percentage per walk percentage. He’s striking out 16.6 percent of batters but is walking 9.8 percent of batters which comes out to a total of 6.8 percent strikeouts to walks. Next he technically has four secondary pitches: his curveball, changeup, slider and cutter. He really has three because he debuted his new cut-slider this year and thus has largely decreased the use of the straight cutter. Even with three to four secondary pitches he’s still using his fastball over 60 percent of the time.

Stemming from the highly used fastball is poor results and outcomes. With the fastball usage, the one thing that surprised me is that how many counts he’s using it too much. Besides, 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, and 2-2 counts, the other eight counts, he’s using it more than 60 percent of the time in each count.

Since he’s using it so much and not using his other pitches very often, hitters can sit on the fastball through pretty much the entire at bat, and they have. His wOBA and xwOBA against the fastball in all counts is .366 and .411 respectively. While in those eight counts where he’s using it more than 60 percent in each count his wOBA and xwOBA are .422 and .459 respectively. Another troubling sign with the fastball is the large amount of home runs he’s allowing, 19 of his 23 total home runs have come off the fastball.

Adding to the difficulty and likely the reason Lopez has relied so much on the fastball this year is the horrible outcomes with his slider and curveball. The slider is his second most used pitch behind the fastball, it has a decent whiff rate of 18.6 percent and a solid strikeout rate of 35 percent while only using it around 17.6 percent of the time.

The curveball has been horrible in terms of results with a .645 wOBA which explains why he’s using it less than five percent of the time. The changeup has also somewhat struggled with providing a positive return for Lopez, a .344 wOBA plus a pitch value per hundred pitches of -1 shows that he’s not getting the outcomes he needs to be successful.

If Lopez can get a better return off of his curveball and changeup, plus utilize the fastball less often while going to the slider more often, this should provide him with a solid base to keep building from.

While both Giolito and Lopez have struggled throughout the entire season, there is a ton of pressure on these two top-ranked prospects to fill the type of shoes left by Chris Sale when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox. While it’s too early to say for sure who won the trade between the White Sox and Nationals, unless both Giolito and Lopez show significant growth by this time next year, it could end up as a below average return for the White Sox.


Ron Wolschleger is a pitchaholic and a Contributing Writer for Beyond the Box Score as well as Bless You Boys. You can follow him on Twitter at @FIPmyWHIP.