BRADENTON, Fla. – Tyler Glasnow breezed through the minor leagues in the most dominant way imaginable. He consistently struck out about a third of the batters he faced, put up ERAs below 3.00 and sometimes below 2.00, and was just unhittable.
Then, Glasnow arrived in the majors, and didn’t see the same success. He made his debut in 2016, putting up a 4.24 ERA in 23.1 innings. Walks were an issue throughout his career, and they became a bigger issue in his big league debut, with a 12.4% walk rate. He also didn’t have a changeup, making him a two-pitch guy, which was an issue when one of those pitches didn’t have good control.
The Pirates decided to go with Glasnow in the rotation to start the 2017 season. It didn’t look like a good call at the time. Glasnow had added a new changeup which he was comfortable with, but which was new. He still had the control problems, and still had things to work through in the minors. But the Pirates decided to have him working through those things in the majors. The results weren’t pretty.
Glasnow put up a 7.45 ERA in 54.1 innings in the first half, before eventually being replaced in the rotation by Trevor Williams, and being sent down to Triple-A. The walk rate improved a bit, but the strikeouts dropped to 18.9%, and he was extremely hittable.
It was after this demotion to Triple-A that he started getting back on track, getting back to pitching the way he used to pitch, and fixing some of the issues he had at the start of the season.
“When I went back down to Triple-A and fixed a lot of stuff, I just went back to what I was doing [earlier in my career],” Glasnow said. “Found that comfortable, just being right on the mound, and doing what I trust.”
The biggest change for Glasnow came with his fastball. He added a two-seam fastball at the start of the year, which seemed like a good idea in theory. Glasnow had control problems with the four-seamer, and had a lot of movement on the two-seamer. A two-seam fastball allows more forgiveness when you pound the strike zone, and can help fix control problems by allowing a pitcher to just throw it over the middle and let the movement of the pitch do the work to end up somewhere in the zone.
Unfortunately, the two-seamer didn’t work as well, throwing off his other pitches, and potentially becoming the source of him being too hittable.
“What happened was when I first went to the big leagues I was throwing a two-seamer,” Glasnow said. “I hadn’t thrown one in forever, and I was getting under everything. So when I tried to get my four-seamer right, I was under it, and it was flat and everyone could see it. I had the ability to talk to some guys who I faced, and they said I was flat and under it, and I’ve never been the flat and under guy. I’ve been the downward angle guy. So I went to Triple-A, stopped throwing the two-seam, started throwing the four-seam, got back on top of everything, and my velo went back up just from being more comfortable throwing and being more explosive.”
Glasnow’s velocity did drop in the big leagues, down from the old mid-90s and constantly touching upper 90s levels. He was now sitting in the low-90s, touching mid-90s. He averaged 94-95 MPH with his fastball the first three months of the season, usually topping out at 97. When he returned in September, he averaged 97 MPH with the pitch, topping out at 100. And when he returned in September, the sinker was gone.
The results weren’t good when Glasnow returned. It was only seven innings, but he had some horrible walk totals, and was still getting hit around.
“When I was in the big leagues, I wasn’t really myself,” Glasnow said. “Especially in the beginning, it was night and day difference. Now that I’m throwing my changeup more, I’m feeling really comfortable with that. I’m not changing anything. I’m doing what I’ve been doing my entire career. That’s definitely where I’m the most comfortable pitching.”
It’s good that Glasnow is getting back to what worked for him in the past. He didn’t look nearly as dominant last year with his fastball, but did show some positive signs at the end of the year. There’s still not a sign you can point to where he turned it around, as the stats at the end of the year in the majors were worse than at the start of the year. Being comfortable and getting back to what worked in the past is good, but the problem is that his stuff worked in the past in the minors, and his lack of control didn’t lead to a successful jump to the majors.
One thing that might help this year is the promotion of Justin Meccage to assistant pitching coach, working under Rey Searage. Meccage and Glasnow have a good working relationship. They started working together in State College in 2012, and worked for a full season together in Bradenton in 2014, and Altoona in 2015. Glasnow showed some of his best developments under Meccage, and having him in the big leagues will help, especially now that Glasnow has also established a relationship with Searage.
“It’s great. We have two really good pitching minds now,” Glasnow said of the Meccage promotion. “I love Ray. He’s a phenomenal pitching coach. And I’ve had Mess for two years, and I have a good relationship with him and work well with him too. So when I found out, I was ecstatic. I texted [Meccage] right away. I’m really looking forward to working with him.”
Glasnow said that one of the big things that works with both coaches is that they don’t just tell him to make changes to his game, but discuss things with him, and work with him to find a middle ground and find something he’s comfortable with.
“Neither of them are like ‘Do this, do that.’ It’s a mixture of both. ‘What are you comfortable with?’ I’ve found that to be kind of rare, just talking to people in other organizations,” Glasnow said. “There’s really no ego among either of them, so I’m really excited.”
It will be interesting to see how that combo works out in developing Glasnow in his next jump to the majors. Searage has helped guys with similar stuff and upside reach their potential, even when no obvious solution was there, other than “magically cut down on walks.” Glasnow has gone through the biggest overhaul of adding a third pitch and getting a changeup he’s comfortable with. The combination of the new changeup with his old fastball, and two pitching coaches he’s comfortable working with could be the key to finally unlocking his potential.
But Glasnow feels that more time in the majors, and his previous experience, might be the biggest factor for him going forward.
“Getting more experience is what’s going to make [the return to the majors] easiest,” Glasnow said. “The nerves aren’t there. I guess previous seasons I was thinking ‘I’m in the big leagues, it’s such a dream.’ This year, realizing it’s no different than Triple-A. I’m just really excited to go play baseball. I’m getting sick of the offseason.”
I know a few Pirates fans who are also getting sick of the offseason. By that, I mean literally every Pirates fan. This is an offseason where the Pirates have traded two of their best players away, and followed that up by saying they plan to compete in 2018. If they want any shot of that, then they will need Glasnow to step up and realize his upside as a top of the rotation option. That seems like a long-shot for now, with the hope being that Glasnow can hit the reset button after last year, and do some good work with Searage and Meccage. It is a long-shot, but the Pirates have had success with worse odds in the past.