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Meet The New Guy: Lucas Giolito

If he bounces back, the Red Sox may have an ace.

Who is and where did he come from?

He’s Lucas Frost Giolito — The Italian Stallion! The Stracciatella Slinger! The Calabrian Chile Chief! — and he, somehow, comes to the Red Sox after spending 2023 with the Chicago White Sox, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the Cleveland Guardians.

Before he became the lost wandering soul of the American League, he was a highly pedigreed ace who grew up in Hollywood. I don’t mean Hollywood as in “the greater LA area” either, I mean that both his mother and maternal grandfather are successful character actors (his grandpa played Susan Ross’s dad on Seinfeld!), his uncle was the co-creator of Twin Peaks, and his paternal grandfather was an Olympic fencer (which doesn’t have anything to do with show business, but which sure is some kind of symbol of privilege).

Giolito attended Harvard-Westlake High School, the uber-prestigious prep powerhouse where he played baseball with Max Fried and Jack Flaherty. He then turned down an opportunity to pitch at UCLA and was a first-round pick in the 2012 MLB draft by the Washington Nationals.

The Red Sox just signed him to a free agent deal that could last anywhere between one and three years. He’ll be paid $18 million in 2024, after which he can opt-out and become a free agent again next offseason. If he declines to opt out, he’ll make another $19 million in 2025, before another mutual option kicks in for 2026. So, in other words, if Giolito is good, the Sox may only have him for one season; if he stinks, they could be stuck with him for two-to-three.

Is he any good?

What a fascinating and complex question! As you just read, he was once a first-rounder and a highly regarded prospect. It took him a few years to find his form, but eventually he became one of the best pitchers in the American League, earning Cy Young votes in three straight seasons from 2019-2021.

But is he any good now? Well, here’s what our own Jacob Roy had to say when he analyzed Giolito in our Smash or Pass series:

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.

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.

So, in other words: he’s maybe still good? The fact that he gave up 20 home runs in just 63.1 innings with the Angels and Guardians last year is scary as hell. But, in addition to the difficulties that naturally come with landing on three different teams in a matter of weeks, we should also note that Giolito and his long-time wife (and high school sweetheart) got divorced in the middle of last season. It’s probably safe to assume that, from both a professional and personal standpoint, 2023 was the toughest, strangest year of Giolito’s life.

Let’s end things on a positive note: for the first three months of the season last year, before he got shuffled around and fell apart on the mound, Giolito maintained a strong 3.53 ERA for the White Sox. In the five seasons since the Sox last won a championship in 2018, they’ve have a starting pitcher produce an ERA that low just once (Michael Wacha in 2022).

Show me a cool highlight.

And let’s also point out that the second half of last season wasn’t a total lost cause for Giolito. Here he is going 7 strong and striking out 12 while allowing just 2 runs with the Guardians. Not only did no Red Sox starting pitcher strike out 12 hitters at any point last year, but Red Sox starters reached double-digit Ks just 4 times all season (Chris Sale did it 3 times, Brayan Bello once).

What’s he doing in his picture up there?

As with Tyler O’Neill, I’ll once again ask you to forget about his picture up there and look at his picture down here instead. That’s Giolito, proving that he’s been taking cozy-chic pictures with dogs long before Shohei Ohtani made it cool . And yes, that mutt is a rescue — Giolito has long been an advocate and fundraiser for animal welfare causes.

What’s his role on the 2024 Red Sox?

He’s here to (hopefully) bounce back and help solidify the front-end of the rotation. He won’t be the Opening Day starter — that duty will likely go to Chris Sale if he’s healthy, Brayan Bello if he’s not, or a big-name pitcher who is not yet on the roster. But in the best-case scenario where everything goes right for the 2024 Sox and they somehow make it to the postseason, he might start the team’s first game in October, because that best-case scenario necessitates Giolito returning to his Cy Young-contender form.