First Pitch: Why Tyler Glasnow Isn’t a Good Option For a September Callup

A few days ago, I approached Sean McCool with an idea about a combined article, discussing why Tyler Glasnow wouldn’t be a good option for a September call-up. Sean has covered Glasnow for most of the year in Altoona, and I got to see him all year last year, plus a few times this year. Combined, we could give a better look at where he was at with his development, while also digging into the contract implications of such a call-up.

Sean took the part of the article that deals with where Glasnow is with his development. I took the contract and value portion. Each side is in agreement that Glasnow isn’t ready and shouldn’t be used by the Pirates in September in any role in the Majors. We wrote all of this before Glasnow’s start tonight, which didn’t go well. So originally, the thought was that this wouldn’t go over so well, and would be met with a lot more calls for Glasnow to come up than we were seeing earlier in the week. That might not be the case after tonight’s outing (which John Dreker recapped in the Prospect Watch tonight).

Glasnow Just Isn’t Ready

By Sean McCool

There are two names that have regularly been tossed around when saying that Glasnow should be promoted: David Price and Gerrit Cole. Both players are compared to Glasnow for different reasons and have been used in debates as to call up Glasnow sooner rather than later, but let’s dispute these call-up charges using these players.

Obviously, Gerrit Cole was not a late season call-up, and the way that he was promoted actually helps the side saying that Glasnow should stay Triple-A; however, people cite that Cole came up and made an immediate impact for the big league club. I know two years ago seems like a lifetime, but let’s revisit exactly what happened with Cole in 2013.

Cole threw 68 innings in Triple-A Indy from April through June (plus 6 innings in his last start of 2012 for 74 innings total), and he had a 2.91 ERA, allowing 3.7 BB/9 and striking out 6.2 batters per 9 innings. Cole did everything he needed to do in Triple-A to merit a promotion to the majors, and he received that promotion on June 11th, allowing two runs in 6.2 innings. In his first five starts in the majors, Cole had a 3.94 ERA and 3.83 xFIP in 29.2 IP.

Cole’s major league debut was good. It wasn’t amazing. It was good for a rookie coming up to pitch for a team in a pennant race. Could Tyler Glasnow come up and put up similar numbers in five (or so) September starts for the Pirates? He may. He may not. It’s extremely tough to tell. Cole was still pretty raw when he made his debut, and Glasnow is the same.

So where is the difference? First off, Cole pitched three seasons for UCLA before being drafted by the Pirates and inserted into the Pirates organization. Cole was a college pitcher. Glasnow was drafted out of high school. There is a big difference. Cole and Glasnow’s Double-A innings are pretty much a wash, while Cole threw 74 innings in Triple-A before being promoted. Glasnow has thrown six as of right now. Again, big difference. Also, the Pirates didn’t call up Cole with a month (or so) left in a season where they are deep in the race for the division. He had a couple months to get acclimated before the pressure really hit. Tyler Glasnow has been pitching in front of 2,000-6,000 people in Altoona most of the year, so he shouldn’t be expected to come up in front of 38,000 against the Cardinals and be fantastic. That is asking a lot out of a 21-year-old.

David Price would be the comparison that people say is most like Glasnow’s situation. Price marched through A+ (34.2 innings), Double-A (57 innings), and Triple-A (18 innings) before making him major league debut September 14th for the Tampa Bay Rays. Price actually had some not-so-nice numbers at Triple-A, with a 4.50 ERA and 22 hits allowed before his promotion.

Of course, we all know the story. Price pitched out of the bullpen and ended up pitching some very high leverage innings for the Rays on their way to a World Series appearance. The Rays converted Price to the bullpen down the stretch for the big league club, something that has been thrown out there for Glasnow to do down the stretch,

Again, Price pitched three seasons at Vanderbilt before his aggressive promotions through the Rays organization. Glasnow was pitching in high school.

What a lot of people skip when telling the story on David Price is the fact that the Rays began Price in Triple-A Durham for the first month and a half of 2009, presumably to slow down his major league arbitration clock. How do you think the Pirates twitterverse would respond if Glasnow came up this September then sent back down to Indianapolis for two months next year? The takes would be hotter than that McDonald’s coffee that you spilled on your lap last week.

Comparisons aside, does Glasnow deserve a promotion to the majors based strictly on what he has done? I’ll let you answer that question based on the facts.

On July 26th in what would be Glasnow’s final Double-A start, he threw ten changeups. In his previous five starts since returning from the disabled list, I would be surprised if Glasnow threw ten changeups combined. And, every time he threw it, it seemed like the opposing batter teed off on the pitch. I’ve never heard a manager, director, coach, or general manager talk so much about one pitch before Glasnow’s changeup. (I could’ve started a new Twitter account called Glasnow’s changeup because that seemed to be all anyone cared about.)

He had one start in Double-A where everyone was happy with how to pitch performed. He threw it for a swinging strike twice against Nick Swisher. Otherwise, the pitch still needs to perform better and get more action. Glasnow needs to learn to trust the pitch, rather than be forced to throw it by his manager. The changeup has been flat most of this season, allowing batters who were sitting fastball to pull the pitch and hit it far. He did see improvements once he was able to slow it down to a more appropriate 88 – 90 MPH. It ended up having some sink action when it came in at a speed that made the pitch more effective. He really needs to refine the pitch in Triple-A, though. I wouldn’t want him going up to the majors in a playoff race and continue to work on the pitch in games that really matter. It only takes one pitch to kill your confidence.

So what about coming up and utilizing a strong fastball and curveball? That would essentially delegate Glasnow to a bullpen role in the majors (even though he has performed well in the minors while essentially only throwing the two pitches). The problem with Glasnow coming up and pitching strictly out of the bullpen is that he has struggled in many of the environments you’d be presenting to him. First off, he hasn’t performed the greatest in his first starts after a promotion, even though the earned runs against don’t necessary spell that. He has struggled with control after promotions, taking some time to get himself adjusted to the new level. Also, he hasn’t performed the best in playoff situations over the past two years, which would be no where close to the pressure presented in a MLB playoff race.

These situations (promotions and high pressure situations) shouldn’t be a long-term concern since he does seem to settle down and get more comfortable after adjusting, but expecting him to come up and have immediate success in a playoff race is asking a lot. Sometimes we forget that these guys aren’t just stats on paper; they are human beings with real emotions. Glasnow will learn to control his emotions and use them for good, but he hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

The mid-season ankle injury really hurt Glasnow’s opportunity to move up to Triple-A sooner, essentially limiting him to six or so starts in Indy this season. Give him 50 or 60 innings in Triple-A next season, and you have a much more refined version of the flamethrower — with a nasty curveball and improved changeup — that is able to come up to the majors and make an immediate impact on the big league club.

The Service Time and Value Argument

By Tim Williams

Even if Glasnow was ready enough to come up and play a small role in the majors, it wouldn’t make sense to call him up for that role. This is the part where I get into everyone’s favorite topic: service time and Super 2.

First, let’s look at the service time issue. A year of service time is counted as 172 days, and a season in baseball is usually around 182 days. That means a player needs to be held down in the minors for a few weeks in order to get an extra year of service time. We saw that this year with the Cubs and Kris Bryant. They called him up on a day where he would have exactly 171 days of service time beyond the 2015 season. Since he has less than a year of service at the end of the season, that means the Cubs will control his rights for six more full years.

If Glasnow were to come up in September, it would give him a month of service time. This means he’d have to be down an additional month to get that extra year of service time (unless the Pirates want that extra year being his September call-up in 2015, rather than 5.5 months next year). The same thing happened with David Price. Sure, he was a September call-up. But he didn’t return to the majors until the end of May, at which point he had an extra year of service time once again.

Assuming Glasnow was ready at the start of the 2016 season (and I don’t think he will be), you’re essentially trading one month of a 6th inning reliever this year for one month of a starter next year by calling him up.

But then there’s the Super 2 topic. Players are generally eligible for arbitration in three of their six years of control. But the players with the top 22% of service time between two and three years get an additional year of arbitration, replacing their final league minimum year. And this process can be costly. Once again, we go to David Price as an example.

Price went year to year, and was called up early enough to be Super 2 eligible. He made $4.35 M in his first year, $10.1125 M in his second year, and $14 M in his third year. Then he received $19.75 M in his fourth year.

Cole Hamels had a bit of the same situation. He signed an extension to buy out his first three years of arbitration, getting him $4.35 M in year one, $6.65 M in year two, and $9.5 M in year three. He then received $15 M in his fourth year.

In each case, that final year of arbitration was expensive. And if Glasnow becomes the pitcher we expect he will become, then the Super 2 status would cost the Pirates about $15-20 M extra in the long-term, considering they would essentially be replacing one of Glasnow’s league minimum years with that final year of arbitration.

So what do the Pirates get for that added money? In a normal circumstance, they would be able to call up Glasnow at the end of April, rather than the second week of June. Essentially, they get six extra weeks for the long-term price of $15-20 M. A full MLB season is 26 weeks. A six-week stretch would amount to 23% of a full season. That means $15 M for six weeks is the equivalent of paying $65 M per year.

There is nothing that any rookie could do in six weeks to justify an extra $15 M long-term, especially for a small market team. For that reason, it makes sense to keep Glasnow down until the Super 2 deadline passes.

The problem here is that if you call Glasnow up in September, you’d push the Super 2 date back an additional month. That date would go from the second week of June to the third week of July (it would be a little longer than a month due to the 2015 timeline being longer than 30 days). And once again, you’re trading one month of a 6th inning guy in 2015 for one month of a starter in 2016 (and a starter who has more Triple-A experience).

Then there’s the actual impact in each role. It would be unfair to expect Glasnow to do much better than what John Holdzkom did last year as a September call-up. Holdzkom came up and pitched nine innings, with a 2.00 ERA, a 14.0 K/9 and a 2.0 BB/9. And in that time, he had a 0.2 WAR. By comparison, Gerrit Cole was worth about 0.7 WAR in his first month in the big leagues.

The upside of a great reliever over a month isn’t going to make a huge difference for the Pirates, especially since they’ve added Joakim Soria. And that upside isn’t going to match an extra month of Glasnow as a starter next year, after he’s had some more time to develop and fix his current development issues in Triple-A.

**Prospect Watch: Glasnow Battles Control Issues in Second AAA Start. John Dreker has the breakdown of Glasnow’s start, and I’ve got a live report from Morgantown.

**Is Gregory Polanco Finally On Track to Become a Star? Great article from Pete Ellis looking at Gregory Polanco’s recent trends, and how prospects can get unfair expectations placed on them from the start.

**David Todd Podcast: Live Minor League Reports, Bell and Glasnow Analysis. My weekly radio interview with David Todd, discussing a lot of players I’ve seen on this road trip, while also talking about when Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell will be ready.

**Pirates Left-Hander Hector Garcia Has Tommy John Surgery. John will have more on this trend of Tommy John surgeries tomorrow morning.

**Adjustments Fuel Huge Run For Keon Broxton. Ryan Palencer looks at the recent success from Keon Broxton in Triple-A.

**Morning Report: Latest Prospect Watch Update, Plus Glasnow’s Second Start


  • piraterican21
    August 7, 2015 11:27 am

    The two pitch mix has always annoyed me, how often Cole, who was said to have a great change up coming up throws it in a game? Not often if at all, the fast ball command is what’s going to determine how far he goes, imo.

    • One difference is that Cole has five pitches. Glasnow has three. So Cole can use a slurve to change the pace a bit. Without the changeup, advanced hitters can try to sit on Glasnow’s fastball, and ignore the curve, because those are the only two options.

      • Hitters don’t generally worry about a pitch that is thrown less than 5 percent of the time, though, so piraterican’s comment is still valid. What are Cole’s 5 pitches. 4 seamer, 2 seamer, change, curve, and slider? Does Glasnow not have a 2 seamer?

  • The greatest area that Glasnow seems to need improvement in is equanimity of mind. Pressure seems to affect his game. He just needs time to grow up emotionally, which is not surprising given that he is 21. He is as old now as Cole was when he started his pro career. I wouldn’t mind seeing him spend all of 2016 at AAA and target June of 2017 as his arrival date. There will be enough candidates for promotion in 2016 what with Taillon, Kingham, Cumpton coming back from injury. They only have one spot open next year due to AJ’s retirement. Morton’s slot will open in 2017, which is when Glasnow should slot in.

  • The changeup scares me…if he DOESN’T develop it, all we get is a 2 pitch reliever.

    So, I’d prefer he stays at AAA and develop it.

    • Or a starter with two plus pitches and a below-average changeup. He still has a changeup. It’s just not close to being as good as his other two pitches. That definitely lowers his upside a bit, but he’s still a starter in that scenario.

  • Speaking of Holdzkom, any word on his progress? He would be a nice Sept 1st addition to our pen.

  • It sounds like Glasnow’s biggest issue is mental weakness, struggles after promotions, lack of confidence in his change up. Pirates need to get Kyle Stark over to Virginia, find a beach and carry some logs.

    • Hoka Hey, Hey, Hey.

    • I always hate saying anything that will start the “mental weakness” tags on players, especially for prospects. What Glasnow has is expected for any prospect. You move up a level and you get a bit nervous about the new level of competition. And then you settle in. That’s what he’s done. We mentioned this because he’ll probably have the same thing when he first comes up to the majors, but it won’t be long-term throughout his career.

      • I treat any comments, mine included, that mention mental weakness as a joke. I believe there is certainly a mental and intangible aspect to baseball as there is any task, but from the outside it is unknowable and non-falsifiable.

        Citing mental fortitude, or lack of as the reason for a players performance is saying I’m not really sure of the cause but I need to say something.

  • I heard he had some issues with base stealers last night; holding runners on ect.

    Excellent article. Id rather see him get comfortable using the changeup, and being a starter in June of next year than the alternative.

    • Apparently they had a tip on his delivery. It’s funny that a HS coach spotted it but the Indy bench didn’t?

      • They know/knew about. What do you think they are talking about when they say he has elements to work on ? That isn’t something you go out in the middle of an inning and fix on the spot. When I said a couple of weeks ago he needed more ” polish ” before ever going to MLB, what did you get out of that ? I think I know.

      • I think Pat was talking about the tip on his delivery being that his back foot taps from the stretch to start his movement toward the plate. This is something he’s had for a few years. It relates to how easy it is to steal on him.

        The bigger issue is that he’s slow to the plate. And I’ve also noticed that when he’s new to a level, they focus a lot more on the delivery and the pitches, and totally ignore the runners.

        Last year I saw a game where runners went 8-for-8 against him in April. He was easy to run on for a bit after that, and then started focusing on that more by mixing up the speed of his delivery.

  • I think that the most important factor presently is we are in a pennant race and we need at least one solid back end starter. When need someone like Worley last year that always this team to stay in a game. Who is it? Liz? If they get Worley back he will not be stretched out to start. I don’t see a trade. It’s either Liz or an unknown magic man.

  • This is fun to talk about, but it’s really a moot point. Pirates aren’t going to promote him. Just from a financial perspective alone they won’t do it.

    And I can’t see any circumstance where CH would bring up a 21-year old and trust him in a pennant race.

  • The only argument there should be is whether Glasnow can help in Sept/playoffs. Is he a better alternative than some other guy to realize the goal of a WS?

    Who cares what the twitterverse says? Any sane baseball fan would realize Glasnow needs a 3rd pitch to be an effective MLB starter, so he’s got to begin 2016 in AAA and stay there until he has one – and more consistent control of the two pitches he already has. If that’s July instead of June, so what?

    So, is Glasnow a better alternative than some other reliever for this Sept/Oct? Not as of today. The control is still iffy. Not that Blake Wood’s control is that much better, but he’s used to the pressure of back-end relief. Advantage to Wood when it comes to a relief option.

    As a starter option, is Liz a bigger risk than Glasnow? Unlikely based on Liz’s recent AAA performances. And Liz does one other thing better than Glasnow – control the running game. Which is something else Glasnow will need to improve upon. Right now it appears he be even worse than AJ in that regard.

    So if both Wood and Liz are better options, why is this a discussion?

    • I have often compared him to Michael Wacha who came up in 2013 with the Cardinals after a minimum amount of time in the minors. At the time the Cards were desperate, the Pirates had overtaken them, and Wacha was very polished. Glasnow has been awesome in 2014 and most of 2015, but he has also had games where he seems to lose his Command.

      I have no doubt that if he had that Command he could be a productive MLB SP down the stretch with only 2 Plus pitches, and a third pitch that is good, but not consistent. After games like last night he looks like a lock not to even be considered regardless.

      Tim/Sean: You both make excellent points, but this thing about some guys being better options because they were college pitchers does not make a whole lot of sense to me unless we actually moved them aggressively into the advanced levels of the minors after being drafted. We have moved Chad Kuhl quickly, but these cases do not happen very often, especially in the Pirates org. Does Kuhl have the amount of pitches and Command of them to be a possible option in a desperate situation?

      • Wacha was drafted from college and had the benefit of three years of maturity.

        • Glasnow is in his age 22 season which is exactly the same age that Wacha was when he was called up by the Cardinals after only 1 year (1/2 of 2012, and 1/2 of 2013) in the Minors. Glasnow is completing his 4th year in the Minors. I think Glasnow has that same type of stuff, but Wacha moved faster than almost any other pitcher drafted.

          It is not fair to compare them, because Wacha is the exception to the rule. My comparison of Glasnow to Wacha was meant to be complimentary. With Command I think Glasnow could be a solid contributor down the stretch. My other point was that allocating more credit to pitchers because they pitched in college makes no sense at all. The developmental path is the same.

  • I haven’t even read the article yet, and I don’t need to know the details to know why this would be a bad idea. Glasnow has made how many starts in Triple A? Not very many! His long term development is much much more important to the future of the franchise than a few starts/cameo relief appearances would be. Glasnow has the upside of a top of the rotation starter, so why risk setting back his development/confidence, perhaps significantly. Yes some rare players are immediate stars in the major leagues. But was Cole at the level he is now when he first came up? Price was a college player so no direct comparison can be made! Was Mike Trout an immediate star? Bryce Harper? Hasn’t Kris Bryant struggled lately? And by the way would anyone like to maker a bet with me that Gregory Polanco will not eventually realise his potential (if you do I’ll give you my bank details in Australia!) The problem here is that the Pirates starting pitching depth has been hit really really hard by injuries – if Kingham and Taillon had not gone down, wouldn’t they be here instead of JA Happ? What about Brandon Cumpton & Casey Sadler? Not to mention that Clayton Richard was also lost as a depth option? And Vance Worley who pitched well in 2014 also at least temporarily gone due to being DFA’d. And not to be a spoiler to Tim’s part of the article but you know if he’s brought up now the least that would happen would be that you would burn an option or start his service clock. The Pirates just need to hope that Cole and Liriano will remain strong (they’re not going to win every start), that Morton and Locke can perform at their best and be as consistent as possible (it’s not like they don’t want to, more so than any fan out there!) and that JA Happ can give them enough league average quality while he is there to at least let them stay in games. If you were going to question any moves, I might ask why not Liz instead of Happ, reports suggest he has better stuff? The Pirates have a tough road without AJ for the moment. However, let’s remember where things were back as little ago as the end of 2011 and 2012!!! The Pirates are still in there with a very strong chance to make the playoffs this year, and next year we may see Tyler, Josh Bell, Alen Hanson, Elias Diaz & possibly Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham too. And we’ll still have Cutch, Marte, Gregory, Neal W (hopefully) JHay, Jung Ho, not to mention for sure Gerrit, Francisco, Tony Watson, Cervelli, etc etc….The sun will come up tomorrow! As Pirates fans we’re still so much better off than we were and with strong prospects we have so much to look forward to!

  • I like the pirate’s conservative approach to promoting their prospects, because it allows their prospect to gain experience and develop at every minor league level. The teams that aggressively promote their prospects might find a gem, but there is a bigger chance for a bust. Glasnow will not tip the scales for the pirates or make them great this year and I argue that even if he was a game changer, I would risk a good team this year for a great team for the next couple of years.

    • I don’t mind the conservative promotions, but i do mind the conservative way they treat their pitchers in terms of innings-

  • Tyler is 21 and is still in the formative time of his growth and development. Off season he lifts weights and runs. Throwing commences in Spring Training 2016 and he will be further developing command and possibly new pitches. In my mind, there is no rush to judgement in 2015.

  • Glasnow’s time is not now, it will be glasnow time in the not to distant future so we have to be patient. I have to ask myself if the glasnow debate would be so hot if the pirates system did not have so many pitcher injuries, the answer is always no. He is in essence the last man standing, so of course that makes him the first choice when the angst sets in. Let the man figure out how to pitch not just throw the ball before he gets thrown into the fire that is pennant chase baseball, and by all means relax folks.