With Carson Fulmer gone, Lucas Giolito is feeling the heat

An ugly against Baltimore makes it harder to distinguish one White Sox starter from another who was just optioned to Charlotte

It remains to be seen what Carson Fulmer’s demotion does for Carson Fulmer, but for the White Sox, it addressed a major speed bump in the rotation. It’s not a complete coincidence that White Sox starters strung together five consecutive quality starts after Fulmer’s absence.

The Sox also established a certain level of accountability. They drew a line between “patience for development in a rebuilding year” and “this is supposed to be Major League Baseball,” and now it can be wielded as a precedent for other starters flirting with an option.

The White Sox beat writers are doing so after a particularly ugly outing from Lucas Giolito. He gave up seven runs while recording just four outs, and his descent into disaster was entirely self-induced. He walked three consecutive batters with two outs in the first inning and never recovered.

I wrote in my column for The Athletic that Fulmer provided a lot of cover for other White Sox starters, and Giolito would be the next to face intense scrutiny after Fulmer suffered the consequences. Giolito invited it with his performance against the Orioles, setting up if/then logic that requires work to refute. Rick Renteria had to use a lot of words to distinguish the two starters:

“I don’t see them anywhere near each other,” Renteria said. “They’re two different competitors in terms of the outcomes that they’ve had. Lucas has at least had situations in which he might have struggled early and been able to gain some confidence through the middle rounds of his start and continue to propel himself to finish some ballgames, give us six or seven innings at times. So it’s two different guys. […]

“With Gio, I expect that we would have a nice clean start from the beginning, but when he doesn’t I still feel like if he gets through it he’ll settle down and continue to hammer away at what he needs to do in order to get deeper into a ballgame, and that was a little different with Carson. With Carson it was right from the get-go he was struggling, and he had a difficult time extending his outings after the third or fourth because it just kept getting too deep into his pitch count and not really hammering the strike zone as much.”

That’s kind of true. Fulmer’s performance was such that Giolito’s ERA is still a half-run better even after Thursday’s disaster. Though it didn’t look pretty, Giolito had averaged five innings over his previous five starts, while Fulmer couldn’t get out of the fourth in any his three May outings.

It’s also true that there gets to a point where degrees of awfulness aren’t worth differentiating. Giolito leads all of baseball in earned runs and hit batters, and the latter category erases the gap between Giolito and Tyler Chatwood on the walks leaderboard:

  • Giolito: 37 BB + 10 HBP = 47
  • Chatwood: 40 BB + 2 HBP = 42

The White Sox typically don’t telegraph demotions, leaving it up to the discerning reader and listener to determine when one is coming. Miguel Gonzalez served as the latest reminder last month. Renteria said he had no thoughts of skipping Gonzalez (or worse) in the aftermath of a dud, only for the Sox to shelve Gonzalez as his next start approached.

(Gonzalez-related aside: The White Sox moved him and his balky shoulder to the 60-day disabled list on Thursday to open a spot on the 40-man roster for catcher Dustin Garneau, whom the White Sox purchased from Oakland.)

While Giolito’s performance screams “SEND HIM DOWN,” I don’t think the White Sox have put a price lock on a flight to Charlotte. Compare Renteria’s defense of Giolito above to what he said about Fulmer two starts ago:

“It would be premature for me to comment on that right now,” Sox manager Rick Renteria said when asked if Fulmer was in danger of losing his job. “We’ll sit down and talk about it, but right now he’s still slated to make that next start. We’ll see what we can figure out and we’ll see if we can put him back on track and continue to move forward.”

The White Sox let Fulmer start one more game, but the media relations department had the press release ready for sending as soon as the 27th out was recorded. I don’t see Giolito’s demotion being similarly imminent. Or, to put it another way, if Giolito is on similarly thin ice, the White Sox have never deployed a smokescreen so thick.

Then again, Giolito isn’t protected from external factors that could also dictate a decision. Assuming Carlos Rodon suffered no ill effects from the line drive to his forehead, he should be ready for a rotation spot two turns from now.

There’s also the fact that Fulmer’s replacement pitched pretty damn well against the same team that stomped Giolito a day later.

Look at these two lines:

Date IP H R ER HR BB K Pit-Str
May 23 7 6 1 1 0 1 8 103-65
May 24 1.1 6 7 7 2 3 0 54-27

I’d normally accompany this with a request to guess which line belonged to the top prospect, and which one belonged to the recently outrighted Rule 5 pick, but you just lived it.

Dylan Covey looked great on Wednesday. He picked up the victory to run his career record toooooooooooo … 1-8 with a 7.05 ERA, which is why it’s hard to summon tremendous enthusiasm. Still, Covey had pitched well in Charlotte, and he’s served a purpose in both his starts with the White Sox this season.

He may serve a larger purpose as a sort of reality check for the more touted White Sox starters. I’d mentioned this idea in my Athletic column:

Fulmer’s demotion feels especially damning because the Sox replaced him with Dylan Covey. There’s dignity in losing a rotation spot to a fully healthy Carlos Rodón, or being the most vulnerable starter at the time the Sox stopped pretending Michael Kopech’s changeup matters that much. Credit Covey for succeeding in Charlotte, but he’s not the kind of talent that bends a roster to his will. The move is purely a reflection of Fulmer’s issues.

From here, Covey could be used as a measuring stick for Giolito, as it makes the “replacement level” concept more tangible. Covey is playing the role of Triple-A Starter with a Decent Arm and an Idea of Where His Stuff Is Going, at least until he reinforces his Baltimore start a couple times over. If Giolito can’t keep up with the likes of Covey or Hector Santiago, he certainly has nowhere to hide when Rodon and Michael Kopech are ready.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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PauliePaulie

Milb has updated and expanded their draft prospects list. Doesn’t appear they changed any grades, however.

Josh Nelson

Oh god damn it. I just updated the Draft Database.

Patrick Nolan

I think Covey is going to be good. That velo/movement combination on his two-seam was electric. If I had one complaint, it’s that for a guy who only allowed one walk, he was a little bit all over the place when he missed, but credit him for getting back into the count when he had to. Hopefully he can keep that up.

If this wasn’t Team Preview Season, I probably would have written up an analysis post on his start, but the gist of it would have essentially been the above. He looked every bit the part of a guy who’s here to stay. I’m entering Bold Proclamation Territory here for sure, and maybe this looks stupid as shit in a month, but I think Dylan Covey could really ease the pain of Giolito having a crap year.

Josh Nelson

Even after one start?

Patrick Nolan

Yeah. It’s a leap, but I’m making it. This wasn’t like Scott Carroll throwing a 3-hit 7-inning shutout against the Rays in his debut. It was a thoroughly dominant performance via a sea of strikeouts and ground balls. There’s room for him to pitch worse and for the opponents to get better and for him to still stick. Maybe he shows up next turn and the stuff doesn’t wind up as sharp, but we just saw the upside. 8 strikeouts, 1 walk, 14 (!!!) ground balls, 4 fly balls, 2 line drives. Sign me up.

He was barely touched, and it was on par with one of Chris Sale’s good starts.

Lurker Laura

Might as well make bold predictions. What else do we have to do right now?

Right Size Wrong Shape

Venting anger and frustration seems to be pretty popular.

Holland23

Wonder what Scott Carroll is endorsing right now. 

Otter

Agree, we’re jumping the gun here. So far in 13 innings he’s avoided giving up a home run, and that’s bound to change. I’m not buying his control and he’s never been a big strike out guy.

But let’s say Covey becomes a 5, or even a 4, that doesn’t make up for Giolito’s lost season. Not even close.

Patrick Nolan

The next ground ball to go over the fence will be the first.

Otter

He still has a non-ground ball rate of 42%. He’s going to give up a home run and it was probably his biggest issue last season even with an above average GB% last year.

Patrick Nolan

I’m not claiming he’ll never give up a homer, but it hasn’t taken a great deal of good fortune to avoid giving one up so far. With the look of that two-seamer, it doesn’t seem like home runs should be a big problem.

As for last season, well, I think that at minimum, it’s pretty clear we’re looking at a different guy this year. What that guy will be is up for debate.

Patrick Nolan

That’s true, durability is definitely not a given here.

Josh Nelson

Don’t challenge this White Sox outfield

gusguyman

I guess you never played backyard baseball

35Shields

The Undergrounder!

gibby32

The advantage of this prediction is that everyone will remember who made it, since no one else is doing so. Covey looked great; I’m not sold. But props to the White Sox Rule 5 draft, and to you, if it works out. Hell, I don’t care which guys in a White Sox uniform do well; I just want there to be lots of them.

NateDPT12

Covey is interesting because it’s obvious he wasn’t ready for the majors last year and in a perfect world would’ve been in Birmingham/Charlotte for the year with maybe a September callup.

It’s possible he was able to get the development this year in Charlotte that he needed last year but couldn’t get due to his Rule V status.  It’s also possible he is getting healthy again as he’s had oblique issues the last 2 years. He’s a former 1st round pick out of high school (He didn’t sign when his diabetes was discovered). His stuff looked great the other day so it’ll be interesting to follow him.

Trooper Galactus

I remember some of this conversation from last year. I enjoyed what I saw in terms of Covey’s pure stuff (95 as a starter even last season), but obviously control was an issue and his movement was lacking. I figured he would eventually wind up in the bullpen due to his injuries and lack of control, but if he’s made for real adjustments then what he flashed yesterday wasn’t just a bum-slaying mirage. That arsenal can play against any opponent. I’d kind of figured what he was doing in Charlotte was just a AAA mirage, but what he had on display was really impressive.

Joliet Orange Sox

It’s not a complete coincidence that White Sox starters strung together five consecutive starts after Fulmer’s absence.

In some years, the White Sox starters have strung together 162 consecutive starts so I’m not sure five consecutive starts from starters is that big a deal.

karkovice squad

New hotness is having a closer start 40% of the time. But the Sox don’t currently have one of those, either.

asinwreck

Do the White Sox have a sports psychologist on staff? It seems Giolito’s primary issue is not physical, and one would think the team appreciates the help Tim Anderson received from counseling last season. The situation is considerably different in that there’s no evidence Giolito is dealing with a tragedy. His approach to begin games seems anything but confident, despite his quotes about staying confident. Having someone help him with that is a logical approach to player development.

karkovice squad

All but 3 teams (KC, SD, ATL) have some kind of “mental skills” coach or department, though not necessarily a licensed psychologist.

Lurker Laura

Some good news, Danny Farquhar is scheduled to throw out the first pitch on June 1.

GrinnellSteve

Great news. I’m looking forward to the day when he throws out the last pitch.

As Cirensica

Kinda morbid message but I am not strange to interpret things the wrong way

GrinnellSteve

Getting the final out in the 9th.

L2R

I think they should hold off anyone in AAA if it helps hold onto them longer. This year is set in stone and a win here or there isn’t going to help those who are angry and isn’t going to help those who find granular data to help them feel better while we all wait.

Patrick Nolan

It won’t help them hold onto any of them longer, unless they actually wait until late April next season, which would be silly in the case of Kopech, and if there’s a need, possibly Stephens.

As Cirensica

Yeah…helicopter coaches is not what the White Sox needs.

L2R

hard to argue that logic.

The Wimperoo

Don’t stop now boys! Keep the roster churn rolling. Maybe the Sox can find a diamond in the rough. If a player isn’t ready for the show, send them down and let them work it out.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall Maggs being a highly rated prospect and he turned out okay. Choose production, not pedigree.

Trooper Galactus

Baseball America had him as the #56 overall prospect going into the 1998 season after he dominated AAA in 97 (and hit well in his major league cup of coffee). Before that, he was an intriguing organizational prospect who had steadily advanced through the system with little fanfare or highly notable production.

PauliePaulie

In those days it took a few years for the “medicine” to kick in.

lil jimmy

So,… you’re saying I should have another drink.
OK!