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The Anatomy of an Inning: Introducing Lucas Giolito

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MLB: Chicago White Sox at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the Anatomy of an Inning. In this rare, offseason edition, Jacob Roy takes you through the highs and lows of Lucas Giolito’s 2023 season.

It’s easy to be upset about the Red Sox signing yet another “reclamation project”, but I think in the case of Giolito, there’s more than meets the eye. Giolito had a solid season with Chicago before a tumultuous stint with the Angels and Guardians. Let’s take a look at both ends of the spectrum to see the ceiling and the floor for Giolito.

Situation #1

April 18, 2023. Giolito takes the mound for the White Sox against the Phillies after a mostly clean first inning.

AB #1: Brandon Marsh

He starts off the at-bat with a fastball just above the zone for ball one. It’s not a terrible pitch with Marsh taking, but it’s just 92 MPH and not Giolito’s best. Marsh is a very patient hitter and isn’t going to expand the zone, so Giolito will need to throw strikes to get the out.

Better location on the four-seamer this time, but still relatively low velocity. Marsh is ready for a fastball and fouls it off to make it 1-1.

A third fastball with better velocity and location for strike two. I don’t love tripling up on the fastball, but the location makes it virtually impossible for Marsh to hit well. At 1-2, Marsh hasn’t seen anything but fastballs, and Giolito has his full complement of pitches available to him.

Another fastball, this time too high for ball two. Ideally, we’d like the velocity to live around 95 MPH, but 94 is much more passable than the 92 he started the inning with.

Here’s the first off-speed pitch of the at-bat, and it’s a beauty of a changeup. After four fastballs, Giolito starts the pitch over the middle and watches Marsh wave as it tails away. The sequencing isn't anything spectacular, but Giolito executes the changeup perfectly in the two-strike count. Typically, you would see more changeups from Giolito against a lefty, but Marsh hit them well in 2022, so the game plan could have been to avoid those in early, even counts.

AB #2: Alec Bohm

First pitch, a well-located fastball on the outside edge to Bohm. 0-1.

Giolito follows up with a slider just off the outside edge that Bohm doesn’t bite at. It’s hard to say for sure, but he appears to be looking for a fastball based on the take.

93 MPH down the pipe that Bohm can’t handle. It’s hard to say if Giolito gets away with one or if Bohm is looking for something else in the even count. Either way, Bohm is on the defensive with two strikes.

Giolito yanks a fastball to even the count. Not much information to be gleaned from that pitch.

You don’t see a ton of changeups in same-handed matchups in today’s MLB, but Giolito will occasionally break one out. He throws a backdoor changeup here that’s well-spotted, but still fought off by Bohm. It’s a defensive swing, so almost anything still feels to be in play here with two strikes.

Another slider that Bohm takes, again just off the outside edge. After two close sliders, it’s safe to say that he’s not going to go for the slider.

Finally, in a full count, Gioito delivers a fastball that’s well spotted up and in. While Giolito has spotted his breakers well, Bohm has done a good job of remaining disciplined and taking pitches off the zone. Here, he gets the fastball he’s been looking for, but it’s located up and in where he gets jammed, and pops out to second base.

AB #3: Kody Clemens

A very quick, not-so-in-depth scouting report tells me that Kody Clemens isn’t a great hitter, but when he does hit, he’s hitting fastballs. As a pitching analyst, my professional opinion would be to not throw him a hittable fastball.

Fastball, up and away for ball one. I guess that technically qualifies as not throwing a hittable fastball and explains why I’m not a professional pitching analyst.

There you go. Not your best pitch, but Clemens check swings and fouls it off to even the count. All of a sudden, Giolito is in control.

After two consecutive fastballs, Giolito throws a changeup in the zone that Clemens is out in front of. Giolito’s changeup is different in that he uses it in the strike zone far more than most pitchers, earning strikes in any count. Here, Clemens probably thinks the high pitch is a fastball. Again, in a two-strike count, Giolito is free to throw almost anything.

Again, Giolito comes with the changeup but misses away this time. Really good location, but Clemens isn’t fooled. After taking the pitch off the plate, Clemens could feel as if he’s “earned” a fastball, making the changeup a viable option, but tripling up on a pitch can be risky.

This should be strike three. Giolito executes his pitch perfectly, but his catcher can’t hang on. Great pitch, 94 MPH at the top of the zone where Clemens can only hope to foul it off.

Right down the pipe. Clemens is obviously expecting anything else and is reduced to nothing more than a pair of shoes. Against a better hitter, that probably isn’t the move, but against Clemens, it does the job. No offense, Kody.

That’s a pretty standard solid Giolito inning. Lefties see predominantly fastballs and changeups plus the occasional slider, while righties see more balance between the two offspeed pitches. None of the pitches are particularly overpowering, but when he executes, they work well as a group.

Situation #2

Our second outing is Giolito’s first with the Cleveland Guardians, as he faces the Minnesota Twins. For the sake of brevity, I won’t show every batter from the inning. We’ll start with two outs and nobody on after Giolito struck out the first two batters.

AB #1: Ryan Jeffers

We start with a first-pitch changeup well below the zone. Jeffers is incredibly aggressive and swings about a second too early and a foot too high. I love that Giolito starts the at-bat with an off-speed pitch, and while it does earn a strike, I’d like to see better execution so he isn’t relying on a gift from the hitter.

This time, Giolito goes to the slider and gets called strike two. Great pitch to put himself firmly in control of the at-bat. Just one more strike, and you’re through the inning with no damage.

Back to the changeup in a much better location, but Jeffers fights it off. No worries, just throw it again.

Nope, Giolito tries to change the eye level and Jeffers is ready for it. He’s a little bit early and it’s a long foul ball, but it could have been disastrous. At 95 MPH, that pitch plays a lot better than 92, but at this point in the season, Giolito didn’t have his top-end velocity.

Again Giolito goes to the high fastball, but slightly harder and slightly higher. Jeffers fights it off yet again, telling me that probably isn’t going to be the pitch to get him out.

Non-competitive pitch here as Giolito spikes the changeup. 1-2.

Another changeup, right down the middle. Giolito gets away with a mistake here as Jeffers is too early. After two missed changeups, I’d go to something else to help reset his mechanics.

A third changeup that misses for ball two. Please, please throw something else. Maybe a slider?

How about the highest, hardest fastball yet for ball three? At this point, the slider is the only pitch he hasn’t thrown with two strikes. It’s also the only pitch he hasn’t horribly missed a spot with. Maybe the game plan was to not throw the slider to Jeffers, but to me, it looks like the pitch that makes the most sense.

And we get another changeup to hand out the free pass to first base. His command let him down, and he couldn't get the out despite going up 0-2.

AB #2: Jorge Polanco

Fast forward a few batters after a walk and a lucky base hit on a good changeup.

Well-spotted fastball for strike one. Good start.

Giolito follows up the fastball with a well-spotted slider for strike two. Polanco is totally fooled by the pitch and is fortunate enough to tap the ball foul after committing to the swing. Again Giolito finds himself in an 0-2 count just needing one pitch to get out of the jam.

I like the idea to double up on the slider, it’s just not quite good enough to get the swing.

Here’s a changeup that isn’t close enough to the zone to get the swing. At this point in the inning, Giolito doesn’t have a feel for his fastball and has all but abandoned the pitch. If he can’t throw one of his other pitches for a strike, it makes it very easy for the hitters to fight off anything close while laying off anything too far off the plate.

Another changeup that’s spiked. It’s pretty clear he doesn’t want to go to the fastball.

A third changeup, this time above the zone to walk in a run. If you can’t command any of your pitches, you’re just up there throwing and hoping. It’s really hard to get outs that way.

After walking in a run, Giolito picks up right where he left off by spiking a slider.

Here’s a better changeup, but Lewis knows Giolito is pressing and doesn’t have to expand the zone. With two outs and the bases loaded, Lewis doesn’t have to do Giolito any favors. He’s waiting for something he can do damage with, or not swinging at all.

FINALLY, Giolito goes to his fastball. It gets taken 400 feet to left field for the grand slam. It’s pretty simple. If you can’t throw your fastball for a strike, and you can’t throw your breaking balls for a strike, hitters will sit and wait for a pitch they can punish. Here, Giolito didn’t have confidence in his fastball, couldn’t throw his changeup or slider for a strike, and when he tried to throw a get-me-over fastball to avoid going down 3-0, it got sent to Jupiter.

So, we saw two different versions of Giolito throughout the year. The first Giolito hit his spots and used all three of his pitches effectively. The second Giolito couldn’t throw a baseball through a goalpost from 10 yards away. His stuff isn’t so overpowering that he can get away with just aiming down the middle and hoping for the best. After watching every Giolito pitch possible, I’d like to see some tweaks in his arsenal to help him stay in control of at-bats. A cutter could go a long way in earning some additional strikes and would allow him to add movement to his slider to induce more swings and misses. Easier said than done, but he has the rest of the off-season to get settled, start working with Andrew Bailey, and become the pitcher he used to be.

Stay tuned for more Anatomy of An Inning when the season kicks off, I’ll be sure to revisit Giolito early on as he begins his Red Sox tenure.