The title gives it away, but humor me and follow the career arc of a former top pitching prospect without a name attached:
- First full season: arguably the worst pitcher in baseball
- Years 2-4: all-star caliber starter
- Year 5: performance diminishes to #5 starter level (but also considerably unlucky, more like a #3 or #4 based on peripherals)
- Year 6: incomplete, but looking like a return to years 2-4 form
Given that the above pitcher is due to become a free agent following “year 6,” one would assume that his fanbase and front office are largely appreciative toward him and hope that he is brought back to continue pitching for his team. After all, while his prior season was clearly a step back from his normal performance, even great players have down years and then recover.
Lucas Giolito is the above pitcher, and not only do White Sox fans still treat him as if he is the pitcher from his first full season (2018), but his own front office is already leaking to reporters that he will not be brought back in free agency. Never mind that after his Saturday start against Kansas City, Giolito is 20th in baseball in fWAR (1.2) among starting pitchers, with the next White Sox starter, Dylan Cease, at 44th (0.8). Giolito’s peripherals and underlying metrics suggest that his start to the season is no fluke, either.
Giolito’s mark of 20th most valuable starting pitcher in baseball so far is much more in line with his career norms — he finished 10th in 2019, 12th in 2020, and 18th in 2021 before falling down to 86th in his down year of 2022. Giolito has clearly been the best starting pitcher on the White Sox in 2023 — nobody else is particularly close. While Cease and Kopech have had some peaks, neither have been as steady as Giolito for a team in dire need of consistency.
For whatever reason, throughout Lucas Giolito’s career, fans have regularly attempted to diminish his performance by creating narratives that are not based in fact. For example, after he had an awful start against Boston, a “Lucas Giolito cannot pitch in day games” narrative was born. In reality, Giolito has actually been a significantly better pitcher during the day rather than at night, but this narrative somehow still pervades the Giolito discourse in 2023.
Another unfounded Giolito narrative is the idea that he was only ever good due to the use of “sticky stuff,” which refers to the banned substances that pitchers abruptly had to stop applying to baseballs midway through 2021. The idea here is probably that Giolito had a poor 2022 season, which was the first full year where the substances were banned, so some connected dots led to another narrative.
However, this is another theory that does not really hold water, as Giolito is good again in 2023 (with the substances still banned), and he actually performed better in the second half of 2021 (after the ban) than the first half. Nevertheless, this too is still used against Giolito in 2023. What typically happens this year is that Giolito will allow a couple of runs early in a game, prompting the “it’s a day game, why is he pitching!” and “he just isn’t the same guy without the sticky stuff!” comments. Then, he will not allow another run all day, resulting in six or seven innings of two or three run ball, but the critics do not acknowledge that his overall performance was strong.
So why do fans and his own front office hold such little respect for Lucas Giolito?
This is a topic I wrote a bit about last year, and it seems to be playing out as I predicted. I think the reason Giolito gets so much disrespect from fans is twofold. First, you have the White Sox fans who were never big Giolito fans — maybe they swore him off after his dismal 2018 season, or the ensuing three year run of excellence wasn’t up to their standards. Of course, nothing Giolito can do in 2023 would turn those fans around.
The second faction is those that were once Giolito fans, but were so disappointed by his 2022 performance that they also stopped rooting for him. Since it would be embarassing for them to make another sudden turn back to supporting him, they also stick to snide remarks since they know he will be on another team in 2024, and perhaps even sooner.
While I have never been one to care about how people root for a team or players, the loud anti-Giolito crowd looks increasingly foolish considering his 3.62 ERA is about a full run lower than every other pitcher in the team’s starting rotation. His 2023 is serving as confirmation that 2022 was an outlier year, much like Paul Konerko‘s 2003 or Mark Buehrle‘s 2006.
As for why the front office is also so comfortable disrespecting Giolito (in the form of coming out in May of his contract year to declare that he will not be brought back)? I have no idea. We discussed this on our podcast a few weeks ago, but your guess is as good as ours. It would be one thing if the White Sox had a full rotation set for next year, but they are only on track to have Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech returning.
One would think that it would be smarter to at least wait until the end of the season before determining whether or not the team’s best starting pitcher so far should be brought back, but the White Sox have already decided that they will be moving on in spite of three open starting slots for 2024. Some have pondered whether Giolito has told the team that he is not interested in returning, but this makes little sense to me (he has said the opposite in interviews, and why would he want to limit his market so soon?).
In essence, nobody knows why the White Sox are content with the world knowing that Lucas Giolito will not be back after the 2023 season, and no possible explanation makes much sense from a baseball or trade market standpoint. What is clear is that a vocal contingent of White Sox fans and the front office do not seem to appreciate what Lucas Giolito has brought to the team throughout his career. If the team falls out of contention by the trade deadline, it could be just two months before Giolito leaves Chicago for good.
Be sure to follow us on social media @SoxOn35th for more!
Featured Photo: © David Banks-USA TODAY Sports