BRADENTON, Fla. – When I talked to Tyler Glasnow during mini-camp last month, he mentioned he was throwing his changeup about 50% of the time in flat ground work, trying to improve the pitch. I was skeptical that this would help, since Glasnow has shown a history of working on the pitch, but not trusting the pitch enough to throw in games. This became a big problem last year when his curveball command was off, the fastball control was poor, and he essentially became a guy with one pitch and no control.

I was shooting photos of Glasnow’s first bullpen session on Tuesday, which serves two purposes. The obvious one is to get photos for the site. I also like to go through the photos and check the mechanics and the grips. You know, because I like to party. In this session, I kept noticing the following grip, which looks a bit like a circle changeup, and was something I’ve never seen from Glasnow before.

Armed with the photo loaded on my phone today, I waited for Glasnow in the clubhouse, so that I could ask him about the grip and confirm whether it was a changeup, and a new pitch. When I showed him the grip and asked what it was, he laughed and had a simple response:

“That’s the Scott Mitchell special.”

Glasnow explained that Mitchell, the Pirates’ Senior Pitching Coordinator, came up to him on the first day of camp with the new grip. It’s kind of a two-seam grip, only with the middle and ring fingers across the seam, rather than the index and middle finger. Glasnow’s hands are so big that he can hold it like this, with the little finger on one side, and a circle change type grip on the other. The first changeup he threw off the mound had a lot of movement, and he kept throwing the pitch, instantly feeling good about it.

Again, I’ve heard Glasnow say that he’s working on his changeup in the past. I’ve heard him say he’s working on it a lot this year. But this felt different. Glasnow was excited about the new grip. He told me he was excited about it, but he didn’t really need to say it. The way he talked about it wasn’t a “going through the motions” type conversation, where he knew he had to work on the changeup, but didn’t feel good about it. Not only does he feel good about this, he was comfortable enough to use it often in the bullpen, and said he was excited to use it in games. We’ll see how that translates over to the games, but I feel this time could be different.

The Pirates have a challenge with the way they will handle Tyler Glasnow’s development this year. Glasnow’s stuff is so good that he can get away with poor command and the lack of a third pitch in Triple-A. However, when he gets to the majors, he can no longer rely on that approach to post the same level of results that he has seen in the minors. That’s part of why a changeup is so important for him.

We saw this last year. Glasnow dominated Triple-A, posting a 1.87 ERA and a 2.92 FIP. He came to the majors and the numbers were below-average, with a 4.24 ERA and a 4.26 FIP. That’s not a bad result for a back of the rotation option, and if the Pirates got that from Glasnow as their number five starter all year this year, they’d be in good shape. The problem is that Glasnow is capable of so much more.

I pointed out Glasnow’s issues all throughout the year last year. He wouldn’t trust his changeup enough to throw the pitch in games. He had continued fastball command issues, which has been an issue throughout his career, and got a bit worse at times in 2016. He didn’t have command of his curveball, which hasn’t been an issue the last few years. The end result was that there were times where he had poor fastball command and no secondary pitches to lean on when that happened. It didn’t hurt him as much in the stat line because his stuff is so good that it can dominate minor leaguers and might even be able to post back of the rotation results in the majors.

Glasnow is working on the right things to get to his full potential. Aside from the work on the changeup, he is working on shortening his stride a bit, so that he lands consistently on his foot in order to fix the command issues from last year. He also added a two-seam fastball, which he threw in high school, aimed at giving him another pitch to lean on when the others aren’t working.

All of these things are the right things to work on, but the question is whether the Pirates should have him working on those issues in the minors or the majors. In talking with Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle this week, neither ruled out the possibility of Glasnow making the Opening Day rotation, but it sounds like he will have to show some rapid improvements during Spring Training for that to happen.

“He’s got to go out and compete, and show some improvements,” Hurdle said. “There’s no free pass. We’ve got other guys that are in competition as well. We’re going to do what’s best for the team. However, I think him knowing that coming in, there’s certain things he needs to pay attention to. He does need to ratchet up, perform better along those lines. He’s well aware of it. It’s not that it can’t happen. I just see a guy who has plus-plus stuff at [the Triple-A] level, and it’s not his fault. It’s the separation of Triple-A baseball and Major League baseball. He can go down there and guys don’t get on base. So there’s not the need that there is at the Major League level to control the running game, to mix pitches.”

Huntington also talked about the gap in talent between Triple-A and the majors, and how that impacts Glasnow.

“His results at Triple-A last year show he dominated,” Huntington said. “There’s no other way to put it. He dominated Triple-A baseball last year, and those results didn’t translate [to the majors]. Which, again, reinforces that the difference in talent and depth and ability and application between Triple-A and the big leagues has never been greater. The talent gap between the two levels is significant.”

Huntington said that Glasnow needs to show “that he’s continued to mature, refine his mechanics, refine the repeatability and the consistency of the quality of the pitches” and that the changeup needs to be a weapon for him. Hurdle said that the Pirates will push Glasnow this spring and see what he can do.

“Hopefully we’ll get some of that this spring, and we’ll get him out there and be able to push him a little bit this spring and see where he can take it,” Hurdle said. “He’s ready to go. He’s fired up. I think the lessons from last year are going to be able to benefit him going into this year.”

The Pirates have other candidates for the final rotation spots. Chad Kuhl has an inside track over everyone else, leaving Glasnow battling with Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams for the final spot. Hutchison might have the inside track in that battle, since the Pirates legitimately like his upside. But none of those other pitchers come close to matching Glasnow in upside.

Glasnow will need to show some rapid improvements in Spring Training in order to win a spot. This means showing that he trusts the changeup, and showing that the pitch is a weapon. It means showing that his command issues with the curveball were fixed with the shortened stride. Ideally, that would also improve the fastball command.

If Glasnow is able to show some rapid changes, he could give the Pirates a tough decision to make. He’s got the most upside of anyone in the battle for the final two rotation spots, but the Pirates also might want to see a few starts from him in minor league games with the new stride and the new changeup before giving him a shot in the big leagues. He’ll eventually be up in the majors, and Neal Huntington had the best summary of what to expect if all goes well:

“When he puts this all together, he’s going to be a fun pitcher to watch.”

Let’s hope “the Scott Mitchell special” is the first step to that happening.

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69 COMMENTS

  1. Some of your best work Tim. Got to give you credit on going thru the photos and then approaching TG.
    Sounds like the ’16 callup was more of a learning experience than most of us thought. Glad he’s working on a new pitch and also getting back to one he used in HS. His modified delivery can possibly yield good results too.
    All in all, maybe he starts his ascent to ace type SP at some point this season.

  2. Lets cut through the bull shit, Hutchinson is no Glasnow so Glas should be the number 5 starter this year regardless of his present shortcomings. He dominated AAA so there is nothing to learn going back there. He needs to be in the majors so that he can learn his trade at that level. So before everyone tells me it will cost the Pirates the world serious, lets get serious and give this young stud a chance.

  3. Tim, so Glasnow now has four pitches and two of them are new? I hope trying to add two new pitches this spring isn’t too much for him. However, if he threw the two seemer in high school maybe it’s not a big problem for him to bring that pitch back into his arsenal.

    • Sort of.

      He has the same four seam and curve. The two-seam isn’t a new pitch. He just hasn’t thrown it since high school, but it’s something he knows. And the changeup is a new grip.

  4. I think the Pirates should do what the hated Cubs did with Bryant. Keep him in Indy a few weeks to avoid a year of free agency then bring him up. Glasnow should learn to pitch the way my dad learned to swim. Some older kids threw him in the deep water and watched to make sure he didn’t drown.

    • They would need to leave him down until June 19th for him to get an extra year before free agency. He already has 66 days in at the majors.

  5. he may have to bring up his glove and hide his hand , because its is as plain as day its a circle change.ps and of course his glove has to hide all his pitches.

    • I’m taking these pictures from the side. The batter would need to be half way up the third base line to get that vantage point. Not to mention this is a rapid fire camera that captures every step of the delivery, and you can’t slow it down like that in real life.

  6. I really hope at the end of the year, we can look back and say “Glad we didn’t trade Glasnow or Bell”. Love the potential of both of them.

  7. So, if he starts in the minors, how long would he need to stay down to gain an extra year of control? Just wondering….

    • He has 66 days, so he can spend 105 days in the majors and not reach a full year. So they could call him up on June 19th and they gain an extra year.

  8. An effective change-up in TG’ arsenal will be devastating. I am interested to know the speed separation.
    I love Gerrit Cole’s bulldog attitude, though the sooner he embraces this pitch, he becomes the pitcher everybody is waiting for him to become. Lots of guys throw hard these days and it gets tough watching him try to throw it past everybody. He needs a slow gear to keep hitters off the heat.

    • The bulldog attitude that had him start 6 games and lose 4 in August and September of last year and never pitch 7 innings?

      Cole is over rated California soft – the scowls and face scrunching are good acting.

      Hurdle should have told him that if he took the ball to start he was going at least seven innings – if he was not able to do that the Kuhl or Williams or Brault would make his start…

      Time for the bonus “baby” to man up IMHO

      • He rarely gets to, or thru 7 because he is frustratingly inefficient. Hard. Harder. Hardest. Very little disruption of timing. Right now he throws. Let’s hope he eventually pitches before he exits Pittsburgh.
        The scowls are overdone at times, but I’ll take a salty attitude on the mound over the ‘deer in the headlights’ Locke stare every day. It takes bigger stones and more guile to throw the slow stuff, but boy does that speed up the FB.
        Glad to hear TG is embracing it.

            • Gerrit Cole is a phenomenal talent. He has a golden arm. He is fun to watch. Expectations are high for him. He is a #1 overall pick who has not yet realized his potential. That is a compliment. It’s no disrespect. But inefficient he is. He seems bright enough to realize it.
              4 yrs – 94 starts – 1 CG.
              Aces hammer down games. We currently don’t have an ace. Cole can be our ace. So can TG. So can JT. If any one of those 3 can master an in-game change-up, it’s lights out. Keeping hitters off balance is fun to watch. See Greg Maddux in his heyday – 4 yr stretch with 36 CG’s. Put Greg Maddux head on Cole’s body and you have a monster.

              • Only 7 pitchers in the NL had multiple complete games last year. Pitchers just don’t pitch as long per start anymore. Cole pitched like an ace in 2015, but didn’t in 2016. If he replicates 2015, everyone in the Pirates organization would take that.

  9. Off topic a little bit, Tim, will you update the 2017 roster/payroll feature by removing L. Bonilla and adding P. Light. Thanks

  10. If Glasnow can start hitting his upside this year, or even come close, the Pirates will be sitting pretty with Taillon and Glasnow under team control for the next six years. And if some combo of Keller, Kingham, Kuhl, Holmes or Brault can eventually hold down the remaining three spots in the rotation in the next year or two the Pirates could be looking at a half a decade of cost control pitching talent. And this does not even count two more years of Cole and three more years of Nova.

  11. GREAT find, Tim.

    This is *exactly* what I’ve been talking about all winter with Glasnow. A changeup is all about the grip; throwing a poor one a hundred times or a million won’t make a bit of difference. Find a new grip, or a new pitch.

    Mitchell’s promotion paying dividends already. My vote for best move of the offseason, along with Meccage.

    Hurdle’s quite about “no free pass” is pretty laughable in the context of them almost certainly handing the 5th spot to Drew Hutchison, but of course he’s gotta say it to keep up appearances.

    • It’s more about comfort in this case. He wasn’t throwing the old one at all in games. With this one, he instantly trusted it, and it got the results he was looking for. It makes you wonder what would have happened if he didn’t get movement right away and took some time to get comfortable with it.

      You’re not guaranteed to get comfortable with a grip by throwing it a lot. But you are guaranteed to never see improvements if you don’t practice the pitch. Fortunately, he now has a grip he’s comfortable with from the start, which is the best sign here.

      • I still think you have the cart before the horse. My point all along has been “comfort” or “trust” in a grip, especially the changeup, comes when it actually, you know, works!

        I’m not talking about the refinement that comes from repetition, I’m talking about the inherent ability for an individual to throw a certain pitch with a certain grip. Not all are created equal, with the changeup more than any other. It’s an incredibly individualized pitch.

        This isn’t something that must be done X number of times in-game to be proven, although game reps will absolutely be needed to refine command of the pitch and understand how to sequence it off of his other offerings. This is only step one, but without this step nothing can be accomplished.

        • This all just reminds me that I need to get to work on my changeup article, like the one I did about the sinker a few years ago.

          Jared Hughes was my reference point for the sinker. AJ Schugel might be my guy for the changeup.

          • An excellent start for TG with a pitch that could help him a lot. That said, when the excitement wears off, and possibly when the Command of the FB and CB are slightly off one of these days against live hitters, his “adoption” of the pitch will be in full view.

            Been around pitchers too long to believe in the magic of the first day of ST. He will love it and trust it one day and doubt it and lose trust in it the next day. After many iterations like that, with successes and failures along the way, if he has a strong Catcher and the courage to trust himself, he will be on his way to developing a third plus pitch – it will not happen quickly.

            • If he can get his fastball velocity back up to where it was in AA, even an average change up will be effective in big leagues.

              • I think the movement aspect Tim noted is important. Changeups with big velo separation induce swings and misses, but changeups with big movement can be equally effective as contact managers even with less than 8 MPH of separation.

                For elite velo arms like Glasnow, changeups with middling velo separation essentially become BP fastballs without good movement, witch was his issue before. It’ll be interesting to see how this version plays off his 2-seamer or if they become somewhat redundant.

                • Small separation, big movement changeups, for reference, include Greinke’s and King Felix’s, and both use them for contact management. Movement is devastating when there’s enough of it.

                  Of course, both of those guys can also throw their changeups exactly where they want them. I’m sure that doesn’t hurt.

                • Spot on. I would also add the ability to make it look like a fastball coming out of his hand by having the same arm speed and angle.

          • In one of the many pictures you posted, there was one of Hudson with a change up grip, and of course Rivero throws a nice one, Watson used to and needs to once again throw a great one if he is to remain as the closer.

    • Sounds very promising about Glasnow. My guess is that even if he has a very good spring the Bucs will send him to AAA because they want to give Hutchison a few starts in April to see if he was worth the players they moved in the Liriano trade.

      • Even leaving out the connection to the trade I think it makes perfectly fine sense to have Hutch start in the rotation.

    • Can you think of any pitchers where a changeup or new pitch came to them suddenly? Serious question, not rhetorical. If he could throw this 6 or 7 times an outing and it even be just a tick below average for a changeup I think that would be an enormous development.

    • They’re not going to give anything to Hutch. He will have to earn it. But I will say if it’s close, I expect them to go with Hutch since he’s out of options and his competition for 5th spot are not.

          • I’ve seen other sources say that as well. I think the confusion comes from 2015 when he was optioned to the minors in August. He was only sent down for 12 days though, and you don’t use up an option unless the players spends a total of 20 days or more in the minors. He used one option in 2013 and another last year.

      • It’s all relative, Scott. You know this.

        Glasnow will be battling himself more than his competition. The team is already paying Hutch $3m whether he’s in Pittsburgh or Indy and have little to gain from him refining his work at this point. Or at the very least, far less than they have to gain from Glasnow.

        There’s sense to this. It’s OK to accept that without building some false narrative.

  12. >> “His results at Triple-A last year show he dominated,” Huntington said. “There’s no other way to put it.”

    He walked 5 per 9 in AAA. That’s not dominating, that’s getting by on his other strengths. So, it’s not like if he goes to AAA there will be no way to tell if he’s doing better.

    Still, overall I’m excited that he’s taking a new approach and seems to be into the changeup. Lot’s of these types of stories this time of year, but having a new approach seems better than not having one.

    • A pitcher throwing a new pitch is one of the few actual signals among all the noise of spring training.

      Also, I think it’s a fantastic idea to discuss the merits of “dominating” on another thread today; great start! 😉

    • Surface level, he did dominate. And even with the walks, he dominated, since the only way people could do damage off him was when he hurt himself with the walks.

      It’s something I saw last year and talked about a lot. The only thing hurting him was himself.

      At the same time, he could still work on things at Triple-A, and we could look beyond the numbers to see how he’s doing. How is the changeup working, how is it looking? How is the control? The command of the rest of his pitches? Either way, he’s going to post great surface results.

      • I hope and pray this kid reaches the ceiling you see for him. It would be an absolute great thing to see a pitcher for the Pirates dominate from start to finish. I don’t think you are wrong at all on his ceiling, just more or less hoping to see someday Glasnow and Keller be a 1a, 1b type of pitchers battling each other for post season awards.

    • you can walk 9 people per 9 in AAA if you don’t allow any hits, you are still dominating. Dominating equals overpowering. He’s overpowering, even when he walks people.

  13. The two main things I got from the article, how Tim likes to party, and the first thing that Hurdle mentioned is maturity?

    • I thought about going into that a bit in the article, but decided against it. Glasnow talked about his nerves a lot last year, and in previous years. I’ve been accused of creating a narrative on this, but I’ve just quoted Glasnow. And there were times last year where he looked visibly frustrated with how things were going, and wasn’t in a good place.

      This year he seems to be much more relaxed. He’s said he is in a better place. He seems more confident, to the point where he’s trying new grips on the changeup, and adding old pitches. Hopefully that all translates over when games start.

      • This outward confidence is really encouraging, couple with news that he may come north with four pitches. His teammates and coaches are making the same observations about Glasnow being in a better place.

      • Tim, have you talked to Mitchell about the grip? Where he learned it, what made him decide to show it to Glasnow now, is it a grip that any pitcher with big enough hands should consider, etc…

        • There are few pitchers that hold their pitches exactly the same way. The change up probably has the biggest variation from pitcher to pitcher just because so much of it relies on how comfortable it feels coming out of your hand.

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