Watching Tyler Glasnow’s start yesterday and seeing a lot of the reactions to his outing gave me a familiar feeling. My takeaway with Glasnow’s outing was similar to everyone else who made their thoughts public on Twitter during the game: it was a very encouraging start, and Glasnow looked good throughout the outing. That familiar feeling though? It reminded me of a minor league write-up.
If Glasnow was making that start in Indianapolis, my evaluation would be along the lines of: “Ignore the runs allowed, because Glasnow pitched much better than that. Some of the runs were due to defense, although three of them were legitimately his fault. He did rebound well, and showed a lot of promise with his changeup, which has been a big focus for his development. He continued to work on the mechanics, which will hopefully lead to better control of the fastball, which he didn’t have in this game. It was a good step for Glasnow, but development you’d rather see happening in Triple-A than the majors. If his changeup continues looking like this, and bailing out his poor fastball control, he could be in the majors quickly.”
The key difference here is that Glasnow obviously made this start in the majors. The Pirates decided to call Glasnow up at the start of the season, letting him finish his development at the big league level. This was following a spring where he was working on a new changeup grip and working on some new things with his delivery. He is still making adjustments in that area — the pause in his windup from Spring Training is now gone and he’s still working to get quicker to the plate to avoid stolen bases.
The problem with letting Glasnow develop in the majors is that we see the growing pains taking place in the majors. In terms of Glasnow’s development, yesterday’s start was a great one. It was encouraging on many levels, with the biggest one being the changeup usage.
According to Brooks Baseball, Glasnow used his changeup just 11 times in 23.1 innings over seven appearances in the majors last year. So far this year, he has used the pitch 29 times in 6.2 innings over two starts. He’s used his curveball the same amount of times.
I’ve talked to Glasnow every year of his development in the minors about the changeup. He’s always been working on the pitch, but has never been comfortable with the grip. He found a new grip this spring and the difference in comfort was easily noticed. In the past, he talked about the changeup as a pitch he needed to throw, almost like eating his vegetables. But this year, he was actually excited about the pitch.
I never thought we’d see a day where Glasnow would be throwing his changeup the same amount of times as his curveball. Yesterday, he threw the changeup more times than the curveball, with 26 changeups and 20 curves. And what was even better is that the pitch was extremely effective.
Glasnow’s four seam fastball was off yesterday, leading to a ball 45.83% of the time. Hitters weren’t getting fooled by it, and the pitch didn’t get a single whiff. The changeup, however, was thrown for a strike 42.3% of the time, and led to a whiff 26.92% of the time. Let’s put that in perspective for a second. Felipe Rivero’s changeup is not only one of the best changeups in the game, it’s the best swing and miss pitch in the game. He had a 29.67% whiff rate on the pitch in 2016.
Not only has Glasnow found a changeup that he is finally comfortable with, he may have found an extremely good pitch. For more perspective on how good the pitch has been this season, here is Glasnow’s changeup compared to the pitches with the best career whiff rates from the rest of the Pirates’ rotation.
1. Tyler Glasnow Changeup (2017) – 24.14%
2. Ivan Nova Slider (Career) – 21.63%
3. Gerrit Cole Slider (Career) – 19.30%
4. Chad Kuhl Slider (Career) – 19.14%
5. Tyler Glasnow Curveball (2017) – 17.24%
Granted, it has only been two starts, and only one start where Glasnow showed a great changeup. But if yesterday was a sign of things to come, then Glasnow’s changeup could easily be the best swing and miss pitch in the Pirates’ rotation.
That has got to do something to boost Glasnow’s confidence in the pitch, and that confidence already was high to begin with. Glasnow has always needed a pitch that can bail out his fastball when the control isn’t there. The control of the fastball wasn’t there yesterday, and the changeup bailed him out in a big way.
Going forward, you still want to see better fastball control from Glasnow. The changeup is this important for him because it helps to lessen that bigger problem. But that doesn’t mean the problem of his control can be ignored. The Pirates will continue making small adjustments to his delivery, hoping to finally get him to a point where his control is passable and he has a quicker time to the plate. If that fastball can eventually improve, and set up the curveball and changeup, then we could finally see the top of the rotation upside from Glasnow that we’ve all been waiting for.
I felt that Glasnow should have been working on all of this in the minors to start the year. The common argument against that was that he had nothing left to prove in the minors. That’s a horrible argument because it assumes the only goal of the minor leagues is to put up good results. The goal of the minors is to develop a player for the big leagues. Glasnow showed that he can put up good numbers in the minors without focusing on the necessary development in his game. He still needed to improve his control and improve the changeup.
The Pirates decided to work on that in the big leagues, which leads to starts like the first two outings from Glasnow. The first one was a disaster, while the second one wasn’t great (even if you take away the defense, he gave up three legitimate runs in five innings), but had a lot of very encouraging signs. That’s what happens when you develop a guy in the majors. It’s not always a seamless transition, and can lead to some bumps along the road.
That said, I think the best approach at this point is to keep Glasnow in the majors and carry out this plan. If the team sends him down after a bad start or two, it creates a mindset where he’s always worried about getting sent down for a bad outing while in the big leagues. Ivan Nova has talked about how that same mindset in New York — worrying that each start could be his last — and the lack of that fear in Pittsburgh was a big reason for his turnaround last year.
Glasnow needs to feel comfortable to work on his development in the majors, much like he did yesterday with the increased usage of the changeup and the delivery tweaks. The hope is that he continues showing improvements in the same manner we saw with the changeup yesterday. If that happens, there will be fewer bumps in the road in the future, and Glasnow will move closer to reaching his upside as a top of the rotation starter.