There’s a rumor out there that the Nationals would be willing to trade Lucas Giolito for Andrew Miller. That is almost certainly not true. There’s a related rumor out there that the Yankees don’t think Giolito would be enough in exchange for Miller. That is almost certainly not true. Miller is fantastic, no doubt, and the Nationals could use him, but it’s not like Miller is the only good reliever in the game, and Giolito is a wonderful prospect. Baseball America just ranked him fourth. MLB.com has him ranked fourth. Prospect people love Giolito. The Nationals think he’s pretty good, themselves.
This all raises an interesting question, though. How willing should the Nationals be to move Giolito for help? For Miller alone, it wouldn’t make great sense. Yet I do think there’s an argument to be made that Giolito should be more available than his prospect rankings would suggest.
It comes down to the difference between Giolito’s reputation and Giolito’s performance. He was a high draft pick, and he’s a highly-ranked prospect. He’s a highly-ranked prospect because people have seen him throw an outstanding heater, and a wipeout curveball. When scouts see two plus-plus weapons, and an intimidating frame, it doesn’t take much of a leap to envision long-term, big-league success. Giolito is supposed to have the tools. And his numbers have been more than acceptable.
But they haven’t been amazing, certainly not since Giolito graduated from A-ball. Last year, in the Double-A Eastern League, Giolito’s K-BB% ranked as “pretty good.” This year, in the same league, his K-BB% has ranked as “slightly above average.” Strikeouts have been present, but they haven’t come by the bushel, and the walks have been elevated. Walks are nothing new for big giant power pitchers, but command issues are a tremendous obstacle. They can’t be dismissed, and Giolito was anything but impressive in his brief time in the majors.
I wouldn’t read too deeply into those numbers. In the majors, Giolito has nine walks and five strikeouts, but, whatever. That’s nothing. Of greater interest: The stuff wasn’t…quite…there, not as advertised. I’ll pull from Baseball Savant. By average spin rate, Giolito’s four-seam fastball ranked in the ninth percentile. His curveball ranked in the 44th percentile. The drop on the curve is big, and it does look like a weapon, but the fastball result is more curious. Giolito didn’t throw an 80-grade fastball. Not with the Nationals. I don’t yet know what to make of that.
It’s not like I don’t believe the scouts. They’ve seen what they’ve seen. And Giolito does throw hard, which clearly boosts his ceiling. He’s helped by his size, which aids his plane. I’m just not in love with pitching prospects who don’t have outstanding numbers, or who haven’t shown much in the majors. Aaron Sanchez, this year, has proved my skepticism wrong, and sometimes pitchers do achieve that leap. Giolito still has to make that leap, and the majority of prospects don’t.
There’s no question he is a very good prospect. He’s already been a big-leaguer, and it’s always all about probability. Giolito’s probability distribution includes some ace-level outcomes. But for whatever it’s worth, this year, he hasn’t out-pitched co-prospect Reynaldo Lopez. He hasn’t out-pitched, say, Adalberto Mejia, who just earlier fetched Eduardo Nunez. Mejia doesn’t have Giolito’s raw stuff, but he has missed bats and thrown strikes. That has to matter for something. His command doesn’t need to improve so much.
If the Nationals love Giolito, that’s great. If the Nationals think he might be overrated, there could be an opportunity here. Giolito might even conceivably be around peak value, so the Nationals could cash him in, sending him to an organization that remains high on him. He’s definitely not someone to be given away, and for all I know he could be the solution to the Nationals’ current bullpen woes. Giolito is to be highly prized. But there are very legitimate questions. The Nationals, I’m almost sure, wouldn’t trade Giolito for Andrew Miller. But for, say, Dellin Betances? It’s not so far-fetched.