“The transformation, Lucas Giolito 2018 to Lucas Giolito 2019, it's like two different guys.”
James McCann hit the nail right on the head.
It’s so incredible that perhaps White Sox fans don’t even realize it anymore. But at this time last year, Giolito was wrapping up the worst statistical season of any qualified starting pitcher in baseball. Now, he’s an All Star, the ace of the South Side staff and probably cruising toward some votes of some fashion in the AL Cy Young race.
Indeed this is a totally different guy.
Prior to his offseason transformation, this latest record-setting accomplishment wouldn’t have been fathomable. But there Giolito was Thursday, establishing a new club mark with eight straight strikeouts, one off the AL record and two off the major league record, held by Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. Not bad.
Asked if he could have envisioned doing such a thing a year ago, Giolito was honest: “No. Not at all.”
But in a season dotted with dominant performances, this wasn’t terribly shocking from Giolito, who White Sox fans have gotten used to as being as surefire a starting pitcher as they’ve seen since Chris Sale left town. And Giolito has proven it, statistically, too, joining Sale and Ed Walsh as the only three names in the top seven of the franchise’s single-season strikeout leaderboard. Giolito’s up to 228 after punching out a dozen Kansas City Royals on Thursday, ranking seventh on that list.
Giolito was actually less chipper than usual, the three-run bomb he gave up to Hunter Dozier in the sixth proving to be the difference in the White Sox loss. But that won’t be the lasting memory from Thursday’s performance. The bout of dominance will.
“I think that Lucas is well on his way,” manager Rick Renteria said. “You all see it. We see it. He’s well on his way to being an excellent big league starter for us, and we are expecting and anticipating he’s going to be a big piece of us moving forward the rest of the year and next year and the coming years.”
After figuring things out in the offseason and turning in a spectacular 2019 season, the challenge facing Giolito in 2020 and beyond is making sure the transformation is permanent. If it is, the job of Rick Hahn’s front office might not be so difficult this winter. Rather than needing to land someone like Gerrit Cole to lead the rotation, the White Sox might have a staff ace on their hands already, meaning the need might just be for another arm to complement Giolito.
Of course, Hahn and the White Sox and the rest of us won’t know whether that’s the case until next season. But the signs that Giolito won’t be reverting anytime soon have remained constant throughout the 2019 season. In the first inning Thursday, he coughed up a home run to Jorge Soler — who hasn’t? — like he gave up so many early runs in 2018. But unlike last season, things didn’t snowball into disaster. He gave up another run in the second, but then he threw three perfect innings after, coming a groundout from the No. 9 hitter away from striking out the Royals’ entire lineup in order.
“Mechanically, he cleaned up a few things that have really helped him turn it on this year. But mentally, he's a completely different pitcher, and honestly, I think that's equally important if not more important than the mechanical changes that he made,” McCann said. “The way today started for him could've turned ugly in a hurry. The 2018 version, it probably does turn ugly. But the 2019 version turns around and strikes out eight in a row, finds a way to lock it in.
“The middle innings for him, that's as dominant as he's been all season.”
Dominant. Didn’t think we’d be saying that about Giolito last year. And yet here we are, with Giolito wrapping up one of the best seasons of any pitcher in baseball.