In 2018, White Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito finished dead last among qualified pitchers with a 6.13 ERA. In 2019, however, the former first-round pick who was the linchpin in the trade that sent Adam Eaton to the Nationals had the breakthrough season many had believed would happen for several years. He was an All-Star and looked the part of staff ace.
Through five starts this season -- an admitted small sample, but that's all we've got in 2020 -- Giolito appears to be having issues.
He was destroyed on Opening Day by the Twins and had a rough outing against the Cardinals, who hadn't played in over two weeks, on Saturday. In between, he had three good outings, though we should consider the competition. Two of those starts came against Cleveland, which is dead last this season in runs per game and the other came against Milwaukee, which is 27th in runs per game.
So we've got Giolito in two bad starts and then three good ones against poor competition. That's tough to read. In looking through his outings, though, something does stand out. All we have to do for an example is look at the first inning against the Cardinals on Saturday.
- Hit by pitch
- Hit by pitch
With 15 walks, Giolito leads the AL. He's hit two and uncorked one wild pitch. The strikeout rate (10.4 K/9) is still above league average, though it's down from last season.
He is getting a lot more groundballs and isn't really being hit much harder than he did last season. There's a problem when he doesn't strike guys out, though. The White Sox are well below average in defensive efficiency, which is the percentage of balls in play converted into outs.
But it seems control is the key for Giolito.
Of course, there's also the possibility he simply got hot for a few weeks last season. Through five starts, he had a 5.32 ERA. In his last 16 starts, he had a 4.42 ERA. That leaves him actually looking ace-like for eight starts from May 7 through June 14, when he was 8-0 with a 0.94 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and held opponents to a .149/.214/.201 slash. Aside from that eight-start stretch, he's mostly been mediocre or bad during his three seasons in the White Sox's rotation as a full-timer.
The good news is Giolito is only 26 years old and has an electric arm. He still strikes a ton of batters out. We've seen him pitch like an ace before in a string of starts that isn't too tiny a sample. There remains concern, though, and it starts with his control.