Tyler Glasnow had an amazing season. Not counting his playoff start tonight — which didn’t go so well and will be his last start if West Virginia gets eliminated — the right-hander had a 2.18 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 111.1 innings. Those strikeout numbers are insane. Consider this:
**Out of all minor league pitchers across baseball with 70+ innings, Glasnow’s 36.3% strikeout rate ranks number one.
**Only five pitchers in all of minor league ball had a 30% or higher strikeout rate with 100+ innings. The closest to Glasnow was C.J. Edwards, who had a 33.1% rate. No one else was above 30.8%.
**Yu Darvish leads qualified starting pitchers in the majors with a 33.9% strikeout rate.
**Only 11 qualified pitchers in the majors have a strikeout rate of 25% or higher this year.
**Dating back to 2006, the closest any minor league pitcher with 100+ innings has come to Glasnow’s 36.3% strikeout rate was Rich Hill with 35.5% in 2006. Matt Moore posted several 33-34% ratios.
**I couldn’t find minor league numbers before 2006, but the last time a MLB starter with 100+ beat Glasnow’s K% was when Randy Johnson struck out 37.4% in 2001.
So to recap, unless there was a minor leaguer from 2002-2005 with a better strikeout percentage, Glasnow has the highest K% in all of baseball since Randy Johnson in 2001.
Like I said: insane.
It also might be unfair. Consider these numbers by other pitchers in the Pirates’ system:
Jameson Taillon – 22.2% in AA
Nick Kingham – 26.5% in A+, 22% in AA
Ryan Hafner – 26.9% in A
Luis Heredia – 19.9% in A
Cody Dickson – 26% in A-
Wei-Chung Wang – 22.7% in GCL
Jon Sandfort – 21.3% in GCL
Those are all pretty dominant numbers for their respective leagues. For example, Clayton Kershaw struck out 24.5% of batters in 61 innings in Double-A in 2008. Matt Harvey struck out 24.7% in 59.2 innings in Double-A, and 23.7% in 110 innings in Triple-A.
You’ve got Taillon and Kingham posting a 22% each in Double-A. Hafner was striking out over a quarter of his batters in A-ball in extended relief, which was extremely dominant. Heredia was only 18 years old for most of the year, and struck out almost 20% of batters in a league where the majority of batters were 3-4 years older than him. All of those numbers are impressive.
Earlier today I talked about Gerrit Cole, noting that he has been the second best pitcher in the Pirates’ rotation in the second half, according to xFIP, and that his strikeout rate has been around 21% in the second half. Cole could use a bump to be among some of the top ten starters in baseball, but he’s only 22 so there’s plenty of time for that bump to come. Still, a 21% strikeout rate at his age is impressive.
It’s important to have some perspective when it comes to Tyler Glasnow. This isn’t supposed to be the expectation for pitchers. Glasnow doesn’t set the bar for “dominance” among minor league pitchers. You don’t look at him and say “it’s good that the Pirates finally have a starter dominating the minors”. What Glasnow is doing goes well beyond that. Glasnow’s numbers this year mean two things.
First, the numbers show just how incredible of a season he had. It is only A-ball, but striking out 36% of batters and maintain that pace over 100 innings? That’s impressive no matter what level you’re at. Glasnow was at a level where he was 2-3 years younger than most of his opponents. His season would have been amazing with a 26% strikeout rate.
Second, it’s almost inevitable that Glasnow will see his numbers drop as he moves up. Just the fact that he’s the first pitcher to post a strikeout rate this high since 2006 (and maybe since 2001), tells you that you shouldn’t expect this every year. As seen with Matt Moore, nothing prevents a guy from posting strong strikeout rates multiple years in a row (although Moore is a lefty, which might help him a bit). Chances are Glasnow will be dominant next year in Bradenton (and maybe Altoona in the second half), but he won’t be close to this year’s strikeout numbers.
That’s not a bad thing. Glasnow’s strikeout numbers this year aren’t the mark of a dominant pitcher. Glasnow’s strikeout numbers this year are the mark of someone playing a video game on easy. A video game they’ve clearly been playing the game for years. And they picked the best pitcher against the worst team, all to try and throw a perfect game and win $1 M. And then they realize that you can’t set it on easy to be eligible. Then they realize this particular game hasn’t made any actual upgrades for three years, and is relying on Kate Upton and the Perfect Game gimmick for sales. And then you wish you had a Playstation so you could play MLB The Show. But you don’t know if you should buy a PS3 when the prices are low, or go for the PS4, thinking long-term to a point where they stop making PS3 games. Then you realize you don’t play video games that much anyways, and…
Sorry. Got off track there. Anyway, the point here is that Tyler Glasnow’s numbers should be appreciated, but not expected. He had one of the most impressive strikeout rates in all of baseball in a long time. While that should be appreciated, it should also be separated from what anyone else in the Pirates’ system is doing. There are dominant pitchers, and then there’s Tyler Glasnow. He doesn’t set the bar. He just looks down on it, like Zeus looking down from Mount Olympus, knowing he has the capability to throw lightning bolts that would destroy any mere mortal down below. Or, you know, like a pitcher who put up (possibly) the best K% in baseball since 2001.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.