Tyler Glasnow has really sucked as a major league starting pitcher. He has started 17 games so far in his career and has averaged just 4.1 innings of work when he does start. Those haven’t been 4.1 effective innings either.
Glasnow was promoted in 2016 to replace Jon Niese in the rotation after Niese was placed on the DL. Up until then, Glasnow was dominant at every level he had pitched at. That year in AAA, Glasnow had a 1.78 ERA over 96 innings before he was promoted. That 1.78 ERA didn’t appear to be flukey either, as he was striking out nearly 30% of the batters he had faced, and had 8 starts in AAA the year prior in which he posted a 2.20 ERA. At that point, the hype surrounding Glasnow was enormous. Coming into the 2016 season he was ranked as the 10th best prospect by MLB.com. His season in the minor leagues only made the hype train grow larger.
When he was finally promoted to the big league club, he sucked. His first start left a lot to be desired and he was removed with an injury in the second game. When he was activated off the disabled list in September, he pitched pretty well out of the bullpen. He pitched well enough that the Pirates gave him another shot in the rotation, but then he sucked again. His first season as a big leaguer wasn’t great. But next year Glasnow would have a fresh start.
And then next year rolled around and he sucked even more. He started the year in the rotation, started 12 games, had a 7.45 ERA, and was demoted. The control issues that Glasnow had in AAA were evident, but now Glasnow wasn’t even striking anybody out and his fastball had no life. It started to look like Glasnow might just be a AAAA caliber player.
But then something magical happened. He was absolutely dominant in AAA. He started in 15 games, struckout nearly 40% of the batters he faced, reduced his walk rate, and had a ridiculously impressive 1.93 ERA. Whatever he was doing wrong in the majors had been fixed, and he was finally ready to dominate in the majors.
And then he walked 6 in 2.2 innings in his first start back. He was removed from the rotation after just one start and was terrible out of the bullpen as well. His strikeout and walk rate flipped, striking out 15% of the batters he faced and walking 37.5%.
There was a lot of speculation for why Glasnow struggled. I wrote about how Glasnow was getting squeezed. Some suggested he was just mentally soft. Regardless of what the case may have been, I’m here to tell you, the Tyler Glasnow Is A Starter hope is still alive.
Glasnow has looked great out of the pen in 2018. His fastball is averaging 96 mph and his curveball looks phenomenal. But what has happened over his last 2 appearances is what makes me think Glasnow’s career as a starting pitcher isn’t over.
On Glasnow’s 200th pitch of the season, he threw his first changeup. His first 199 pitches consisted of only his fastball and curveball. One changeup every 200 pitches isn’t going to be big enough of a threat to count as a third pitch. But it’s something he wasn’t doing before. Glasnow will have to use more than 2 pitches if he wants to become a starting pitcher.
The changeup was awesome to see. But his last appearance might have been his most important one yet. He didn’t throw his changeup, but he did throw a third pitch that Kyle Crick has been helping him with since spring training; a slider. Not only did he throw a slider, but he threw it as often as he threw his curveball. Alex Stumpf used Chad Kuhl and Clayton Kershaw as examples of guys who have added pitches to change a batters eye level and wrote that Glasnow might benefit from a slider because he didn’t have a pitch with true horizontal movement. Only 6 pitches is a tiny sample. But it’s a promising one.
Some pitch trackers haven’t picked up on Glasnow’s new pitch. They are still categorizing Glasnow’s slider as his curveball, but you can clearly tell based on velocity which pitch is which. As well as adding different movement to his arsenal, he’ll be able to mix up speeds more effectively with a 96 mph fastball, 91 mph changeup, 87 mph slider, and an 81 mph curveball.
During his last appearance, he had thrown 9 pitches to left-handed batters. He threw his curveball 0 times, but he threw his fastball 6 times and his slider 3 times. His slider got 2 swings and misses and he used it to strikeout Kolten Wong. (GIF of one of his sliders in that at bat below)
There is no rush to get Glasnow into the rotation. As of 4/30, the Pirates lead the league in quality starts. Joe Musgrove will be back in a few weeks, and Nick Kingham (who has also added a slider, which has helped him achieve a 30% strikeout rate in the minors this year and also helped him dominate the Cardinals on Sunday) has passed Brault on the starting rotation totem pole. The Pirates have a plethora of options, and the Pirates will not force Glasnow into the rotation. In my opinion, he’ll get a chance if a starting rotation spot is available, for the long term. They will not bounce Glasnow around. He’s either in the bullpen for the year, or he’s in the rotation for the year.
He’ll have another shot to prove himself, but this time around, I think he’ll prove that he was worthy of being called the 10th best prospect in baseball. But even if his starting days are over, a 6’8 pitcher with a high 90s fastball throwing (that has off the charts perceived velocity), a plus curveball, a potentially good slider, and an average changeup sounds like an absolute monster out of the bullpen. A slider should help Glasnow get more swings and misses, which will help his pitch efficiency. Glasnow was horribly inefficient as a starter last year, and this might be the cure that he has needed.
Here is a bonus GIF of Glasnow’s curveball. Because – why not?