On Monday’s episode of the Sox Machine Podcast, Josh and I discussed Lucas Giolito’s struggles, and I tried to sum up what I thought was plaguing the White Sox’s erstwhile ace. It’s easy to diagnose the symptoms — he’s missing fewer bats and getting hit harder — but it’s tougher to explain why his fastball-changeup approach isn’t getting the job done right now. The Red Sox might’ve been sitting on Giolito’s changeup on Patriots Day, but I doubt they were the first team to try that tack. He’s a two-pitch pitcher who once threw the Tigers eight consecutive changeups, so there are only two real permutations to attempt.
My best guess is that while Giolito’s fastball velocity is down a little (0.6 mph), his changeup has crept up a little (0.7 mph), and while it doesn’t seem like much to go from a 13-14 mph difference to 11-12, it might be just the margin hitters need to fight off a high fastball while waiting for something softer, and not having to wait as long when that offspeed offering arrives.
While that’s more precise, that’s still describing a result of a pitch. For an attempt at establishing a cause, I’ll point to this post on PitcherList by Michael Ajeto. He notes that nothing is wrong with the shape of Giolito’s pitches, but a lower release point might be making his vertically oriented approach to the strike zone more approachable to hitters.
Here, it’s evident that Giolito’s release point has drifted to his arm-side, but it’s also dropped down by a few inches too. That indicates that this is probably less about Giolito’s position on the rubber, and much more about his arm slot, which has dropped. It might feel minor, but it leads me to believe that this has had an effect on the way that Giolito’s pitches behave.
Generally speaking, the more on the side of the ball you get, the more side-to-side movement you get. Pitchers on the extremes often locate east-west. Get on the top of the ball, and your pitches start looking more like James Karinchak‘s. Those pitchers locate north-south, like Giolito historically has. If you consider the spin direction of Giolito’s pitches in the format of a clock, all of them have shifted clockwise. Giolito’s fastball hasn’t changed much, but his changeups (yes, plural!), have gotten more arm-side movement, and a little more drop. His slider, though, has dropped pretty drastically.
This explanation would cover why he doesn’t like his slider even when the situation demands that he throws it. It also explains why the slightest of velocity drops and narrowing of speed between his fastball and changeup could have a pronounced effect.
A lot of Giolito’s dominance has been built on pairing a short armswing with a long-armed release from a high position, creating the effect as though he’s conking hitters on top of the head. His fastball and changeup don’t have the typical drop, which is why you saw so many hitters swinging underneath low-80s floaters that would typically look like a bad fastball from a pitching position player. If both pitches look a little bit more normal and he doesn’t trust his slider? Sitting on the changeup is still something easier said than done, but it’s easier to do than it was before.
* * * * * * * * *
PitcherList also took a look at Dylan Cease’s improvements, although it’s not as digestible. Cease makes it hard on a writer because he was a peculiar kind of bad before. He left many avenues for improvement, and he’s pursuing just about all of them this season. Zach Hayes points to Cease’s more effective spin on his fastball, resulting in dramatically more carry. That makes his fastball harder to sit on alone, but it works even better when his slider and curve are more competitive. And those sliders and curves are being located better, sure, but they also have more distinct breaks on them. It’s a lot to cover, especially if you have to explain why it wasn’t working before.
Hayes only briefly touched on Cease’s changeup, but that’s also a pitch that’s morphing before our eyes. Look at the velocity separation between his fastball (red) and changeup (green) over the course of the young season:
It hasn’t been worth focusing on Cease’s changeup in the past because Cease will ignore it when he has the luxury. He threw it 13 percent of the time last year, but its usage spiked toward 20 percent and above in outings where he issued more than a walk an inning. You know the starts — Cease can’t throw anything spinning for a strike, so he needs a non-fastball he can put in the zone, so, well changeup, I guess it’s me and you. Desperate measures reflect the desperate times.
Because Cease’s control issues haven’t been as severe this season, he hadn’t really reached for the changeup. He threw a total of 29 over his first five starts, making it a distant fourth in his arsenal.
But Cease has nearly matched that total over his last two starts, throwing 14 against the Reds on May 4, and following up with 12 against the Twins on Tuesday. In both starts, he subtracted two whole ticks from the average velocity, averaging 78 mph both times out. That’s a gap of 17-18 mph from his fastball, and it reached new heights/depths on Tuesday.
Take this sequence to Jorge Polanco, the final batter Cease faced over his five innings. Cease came at Polanco with fastballs in their first battle of the night, and Polanco found his timing in time for a mistake, ripping a solo shot into the Minnesota bullpen. With two on and two outs, Cease made sure to follow up each fastball with something un-fast.
That’s the slowest changeup Cease has ever thrown, a 21-mph departure from the pitch that came before. Polanco couldn’t wait back long enough, and Cease escaped a jam to keep the game tied.
Cease’s changeup is way softer than it was before and it has more armside run. The combination gives him the kind of confidence to throw one with two strikes to Nelson Cruz of all people (Cease missed in a good direction). He feels good about it …
… and he should feel good, because he’s being rewarded for throwing it a little more.
I could’ve devoted a post to his changeup usage after his start against the Reds, because he started throwing this flutterer with conviction the third time through. See the called strike column? He grabbed first-pitch strikes with it twice in the fifth inning, and once to Joey Votto in the sixth.
Yet it wasn’t a mere novelty. Just like he did with Polanco, Cease opened and closed his at-bat to Votto with his changeup, and was rewarded with a backwards K for his effort. The speed fooled him more than the location.
Looking at the early returns, I’m curious to see what Cease can do with this pitch, especially in games where his slider and curveball aren’t much of a threat. Perhaps Cease has advanced enough mechanically that he’s seldom resigned to writing off his breaking balls, which leaves this super-slow changeup as a wrinkle he can keep in his back pocket more often than not. That’s also useful, because after watching him labor through starts that didn’t last five innings his first four times out, nobody needs to overexplain the usefulness of having a pitch he can locate for strikes a third time through the order. And if Cease is reliable for three times through, he himself becomes especially useful while Giolito tries to get himself straightened out.
(Photo by Quinn Harris/USA TODAY Sports)
Giolito’s game by game fastball velocity looks like this, so the season average is kind of masking a bigger decline since Opening Day:
And the conversation about him should include his workload so far which has been pretty taxing.
He might benefit from a 10-day IL stint for “soreness” to get some extra rest and work on his release point a bit.
On the other hand, Hof might view it that his workload has been pretty light only once getting up to 114 pitches.
Probably. Workload research says that’s a problem.
I remember after his first start, Giolito, his dad and Codify were all flexing over his big velocity. Since then it just hasn’t been there. I’m concerned that he hasn’t been right since then, and that there might be something wrong.
The impact of his Opening Day fastball was erased from his average after his next two starts, so I don’t think it’s being framed incorrectly.
April average: 93.4
May average: 93.3
His median game velocity is 93. More of his starts are below his average velo than above it.
It’s pretty amazing that just 6 weeks into the season, and I am now most nervous when Giolito pitches. He looks the shakiest of any of our 5 starters right now. Cease showed a lot of guts yesterday. After the 3 run inning partially caused by the misplayed foul pop, he put 3 zeroes up on the board and ended his day with an absolutely nasty changeup to Polanco. He seems to really have turned a corner. With that starting pitching, they should be in every game- Bummer is back to being a shutdown reliever, Crochet had more life on his fastball. Things are looking up!!
You are right!
It has just been so many years since we’ve had a full stable of good arms, I am used to looking at our offensive weapons to measure the odds of winning.
Even then, we are scoring runs. I miss Eloy and Luis but it has been fun so far.
I was kinda disappointed with Dylan yesterday after his two previous dominating performances but then I stepped back and just looked at it: If you told me before the start of the season Dylan Cease would outduel Kenta Maeda and strike out 7 Twins while walking only 2, I would have been delighted with that result. If this is an “average” or “typical” Cease start, he’s perfect as a #4 pitcher in the rotation.
If Giolito is our “fifth starter” (he’s not) we are golden.
What Cease has shown in the last 3 starts shows why he should not have been traded for Lynn like some people wanted. He has definite top of the rotation stuff. I’m not saying he belongs at the top of the rotation yet, but he is still relatively inexperienced as a major league starter. Once he gets comfortable throwing all his pitches, he should be a fixture near the top of the rotation.
It was justifiable to trade either one of them for Lynn.
Having traded either of them, they should have been bolder in free agency than they were.
Speaking of which
fWAR for the following pitchers
Rodon = 1.3
Giolito = 0.4
Keuchel = 0.3
Cease = 0.9
Lynn = 1.0
Dunning = 1.2
Honestly, if you had a crystal ball to predict the Robert/Eloy injuries, you probably wouldn’t do that trade again. But at the time, 2021 looked to be a good year to go for it.
I am not criticizing the trade. I think it was absolutely a good trade as the White Sox need a guy like Lynn shall we get into a post season short series games.
I also believe Cease has more potential than Dunning. Cease is also younger.
I do agree with Karko that trading for Lynn invited the Sox to be bolder in the off season. If we fail to reach the World Series at least, and don’t extend Lynn, then the trade was bad.
The trade would still be fine. Position player injuries were a known risk for the team–tho they’ve obviously hit just about the worst case scenario with both. They had lots of opportunities to better insure against that risk.
rWar (bWar? What’s bbrefs WAR called?) has it as the opposite (Cease over Dunning). Though it’s because fWAR uses FIP so Dunning should be posting better stats that Cease.
I try not to live in the past, but can you imagine Harper in RF?
Every god damn day.
That one would have solved so many problems for the Sox-
right field- check
LH power bat- check
High OBP- check
And the Phillies are paying him $23M per year? That was such a no-brainer for any team not owned by Jerry.
Jerry can rectify this mistake. Time to bring up the Beast from the East Seiya Suzuki (provided he’s posted by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp this offseason)
Interesting, id be all for it but only minor downside is thats another right hand bat
Really good analysis. Supports the old saying that hitting is all about timing and pitching is about disrupting timing. I hope Cease can continue his ascent.