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Lucas Giolito’s no-hit bid should finally get him on everyone’s radar screen

Despite a five-win season last year, Lucas Giolito’s no-hitter this week finally got people to pay attention. 

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago White Sox Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been 12 years since the Chicago White Sox made the playoffs, and considering the rise of the Cubs as a perennial contender, the White Sox have recently played annual second-fiddle in Chicago and have been viewed as an overlooked also-ran in the AL Central.

Despite their recent decade-plus of frustration, futility, and failure, the SouthSiders have several existing players on both sides of the ball that are making noise this season, none more so than starting pitcher Lucas Giolito.

Giolito threw the Sox’ first no hitter since that last playoff season in 2012, when Phil Humber tossed a perfect game against the Mariners. In his start on Monday night, Giolito walked one batter, but he bested Humber by Game Score setting the franchise record at 108.

Fans paying attention shouldn’t be surprised by Giolito’s emergence as a ‘True Ace’ considering his excellent performance the entirety of last season. BtBS alum Merritt Rohling wrote about Giolito last May. In 29 starts last year Giolito threw three complete games, including two complete game shutouts. It was quite a turnaround after he led the American League in both earned runs and walks in 2018.

It has been a steady climb for Giolito, who has progressed every season since joining the White Sox franchise.

The Nationals drafted Giolito with their first round pick (number 16 overall) in the 2012 draft, and traded him to the White Sox for Adam Eaton after the 2016 season. That 2016 offseason saw massive change for Chicago, as they traded away ace Chris Sale to Boston days before they sent Eaton to Washington in exchange for a prospect package highlighted by Giolito.

What makes Giolito such a strong pitcher is his fastball / curveball / changeup combination.

The raw stuff has always been graded highly, and the repertoire earned him numerous honors including being named Baseball America’s top Nationals’ prospect 2014, 2015, and 2016, and placing him in the top-five prospects in all of MLB in 2016. Giolito has harnessed that raw stuff into a potent combination, and he’s regularly toyed with the usage of his pitches whcih had led to maximum effectiveness.

Since 2018, Giolito has consistently relied less on his fastball, supplementing his best pitch with more offspeed offerings.

Lucas Giolito Pitch Usage

Year Hard Breaking Offspeed
Year Hard Breaking Offspeed
2014 61.54 15.38 23.08
2015 60 30 10
2016 71.11 18.34 10.55
2017 59.84 24.18 15.98
2018 59.45 25.23 15.31
2019 55.02 18.95 26.03
2020 50.52 14.73 34.76
Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

From 2018, Giolito has dropped his fastball usage from near-60 percent to just slightly over 50 percent, making up the changes by relying more on his changeup, a combination that was lethal to Pirates hitters in his no-hit bid.

Giolito faced 28 Pirates hitters on Tuesday night and threw a total of 101 pitches, 74 of which were strikes. Of the 101 pitches, fewer than half were fourseam fastballs. He relied on his changeup for 38 of the 101 pitches, supplementing the two main offerings with 16 sliders, and generating those 13 strikeouts from combination of all his offerings.

By using his offspeed pitches nearly as often as his fastball, he kept Pittsburgh hitters guessing, as Pirates batters swung at over 60 percent of the offspeed pitches they saw, and they whiffed on more than half of those swings.With a consistent release-point, it was obvious Pirates’ hitters had no idea what was coming.

You can find all of the strikeouts from the no hitter on MLB’s video page which will give a pretty good indication of how he worked his offspeed pitches combined with the hard-stuff to continue to baffle hitters.

At 19-12, the Whtie Sox are in a virtual tie with the Indians and Twins in the American League Central. Considering they lead the American League in home runs and by wRC+ by a fairly high margin, their pitchers don’t need to be perfect, but having a strong number one starter in an expanded postseason that consists of short series will put Chicago at a distinct advantage against most teams in the America League. SouthSiders are hoping we’ve just seen the beginning of stardom from Lucas Giolito.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano