Josh Donaldson Was Right To Call Out Lucas Giolito

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan (USA TODAY Sports)

On paper, this series between the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox should have been relatively uninteresting. Despite Minnesota’s resurgence over the last couple of weeks, they still came into the Windy City well below .500. Conversely, the team on the south side of Chicago is enjoying a fruitful season with the second-best record in the American League.

Luckily for us, there has been more than enough drama to keep this series interesting.

In the meeting between these two teams on Tuesday, Josh Donaldson hit a home run to left field in the top of the first inning off White Sox righty Lucas Giolito. While crossing home plate, the Bringer of Rain was caught yelling, “It’s not sticky anymore,” a reference to the recent MLB crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances to get a better grip on the ball and control the location. Despite the Twins’ late-inning heroics, the White Sox ended up taking the game, 7-6.

Giolito didn’t take too kindly to these jabs. “He’s a fucking pest,” he said, “that’s kind of a classless move. If you’re going to talk shit, talk shit to my face. Don’t go across home plate and do all that. Just come to me.” Former manager Ozzie Guillen echoed the sentiment, saying that he would hit Donaldson with a fastball in the ribs on the White Sox postgame show.

Being the outspoken and confrontational person he is, Donaldson decided to chat with Giolito in the parking lot after the game. He got off the team bus and confronted him about his comments, later explaining that Giolito didn’t have “much to say” when they were face to face.

While the verbal back and forth is entertaining in a lost Twins season, let’s look at if there’s any validation to his accusations. Donaldson has long been at the forefront of the movement to get SpiderTac and other foreign substances banned, calling them “performance-enhancing” in a press conference at the start of June. He also called out New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole for his dip in spin rates since the start of the MLB-wide crackdown.

In Cole’s first start after the crackdown, his spin rate dropped meaningfully. His four-seam fastball was down 116 rotations per minute (RPM), his knuckle curve was down 70, his changeup was down 71, and his slider was down 45 RPM. Cole has become the poster child for the use of SpiderTac, given his discomfort in press conferences when asked about the topic.

While these might seem like large numbers, it is important to remember that they are all around one standard deviation of 115 RPM from the mean. Keeping his declining spin rates in mind, I thought it would be interesting to also look at Giolito’s first start after the sanction of these substances to see if any of the accusations levied on him by Donalson would, ahem, stick.

While Cole’s decrease in spin rates seems high, they pale in comparison to Giolito’s decrease. His four-seam fastball fell 187 RPM, his slider fell 159, and his curveball fell a whopping 425 RPM. These decreases fell beyond one standard deviation of the mean, and the decrease of RPM of the curveball fell over 3.5 standard deviations. The decrease in spin rate may be why Giolitio gave up eight home runs in June.

It’s worth noting that when the MLB handed out the policy changes, Giolito wasn’t as vocal as Cole or other pitchers. Rather, he has stated that it was weird for this correction to occur mid-season instead of starting next season.

While Donaldson took the unprovoked first shot with his comments while crossing home plate, the increase in home runs over the last month coupled with the major decline in his spin rates lend some credence to Donaldson’s accusations. Couple that with Giolito’s odd exchange with Donaldson in the White Sox parking lot, and this all isn’t a good look for the White Sox ace.

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