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Smash or Pass: Lucas Giolito

He had a roller-coaster 2023, but can he settle things back down next year?

MLB: Texas Rangers at Cleveland Guardians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Who is he and where does he come from?

He’s 29-year-old right-hander Lucas Giolito. He spent the first half of 2023 with the White Sox before embarking on a tour of the American League, moving from Chicago to the Angels, and then to the Guardians.

Is he any good?

Typically, if you’re playing for three teams in one season, you aren’t very good. For Giolito, that isn’t exactly the case. The Angels brought in Giolio as a last-ditch effort to get Ohtani to the playoffs before he left for greener pastures. After about a month, they realized that was a terrible idea and went back to their old ways, DFAing Giolito as they scrambled to get under the luxury tax threshold. He was promptly picked up by the Guardians, who were also making a final push to the playoffs (and also came up short).

Both the Angels and Guardians thought Giolito was good enough to help their playoff chances so he must be good, right? Well, he actually hurt far more than he helped. Across 63 innings with Los Angeles and Cleveland, his ERA was nearly seven.

That doesn’t sound good.

Despite the poor results, there’s plenty of reason to believe Giolito can be a productive pitcher. From 2019 to 2021, he received Cy Young votes, finishing as high as sixth. And while his 2023 stat line looks suspect, he had a solid first half with Chicago. While every inning counts the same, pitching for three teams in six weeks has to be difficult, so take those results with a grain of salt.

At his peak, Giolito was an inning-eating, strikeout machine. In each of his three seasons from 2019-2021, he threw at least 170 innings with strikeout rates above 28%. 2022 was a down year, but the underlying stuff was still there in the first half with Chicago. His changeup returned a 31.2% CSW (called-strikes plus whiff rate). His slider, despite the average chase rate, had a strong whiff rate. Down the stretch, his command was shoddy and it was punished, but the pitch quality itself was still there.

Tl;dr, just give me his 2023 stats.

33 Starts, 184.1 IP, 169 H, 73 BB, 204 SO, 4.88 ERA, 91 ERA+

Why would he be a good fit for the 2024 Red Sox?

For five of his last six seasons, he’s thrown at least 160 innings. The one season he didn't was the 60-game 2020 season, when he finished just outside the top ten in innings pitched. Wear and tear is a concern, but he’s still just 29 and should have plenty left in the tank. He also isn’t attached to a qualifying offer, something the Red Sox would prefer to avoid.

Why would he not be a good fit for the 2024 Red Sox?

Giolito has had some rough patches recently, and the Red Sox could use a sure thing. While the underlying numbers show his stuff is still there, he’s struggled to consistently execute those pitches. His velocity has also slightly dipped, so there may be cause for concern about his overall health. On top of that, he’s been snakebitten by the home run ball, so the big green wall in left field may not be his friend. If his velocity continues to slip or he can’t regain his command, he could be a disaster waiting to happen.

What will he cost?

As always, I defer to someone else for the projections. MLBTradeRumors has Giolito pegged for a two-year, $44MM deal. While I’m not an expert on these things, I could see a team offering him additional years, which may be enticing. Still, he’s only 29 and may want to take a shorter deal, go into free agency on a higher note, and maximize his career earnings. Given the Red Sox emphasis on developing pitching, they may not want to hand out a long-term deal to a mid-rotation arm. If that’s the case, two years at just about $20MM/year sounds about right.

Show me a cool highlight.

This is every pitch of Giolito’s mid-September start against a really good Rangers offense. Even with his velocity down, he’s able to dominate with command. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, skip ahead to the 2:10 mark and watch that one pitch. That changeup is perfect. It’s hard to throw a better pitch than that. You can’t expect that every pitch, but it’s still in there.

Smash or pass?

If you want to make the case that he has too many red flags, you certainly can. To me, they aren’t anything that can’t be fixed. While his decline in velocity gives me pause, there were starts where he looked like his old self. His second half of 2023 was a complete disaster, but I’m willing to write that off as well. Routine is important for a starting pitcher; playing for three teams in six weeks can’t be easy. Throw out those months. At worst, you have a solid innings-eater. At best, you have a Cy Young candidate. I’m willing to take that chance, as long as the commitment isn’t super long-term.