Tyler Glasnow was going to be the Next Big Thing in 2016. That’s what many national pundits and, to be fair, me were saying in the run-up to the 2016 season. After a suitable tune-up and adjustment in 2016, Glasnow was going to ascend (after the Super Two deadline, of course) and fit right into the 2016 rotation behind Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. All the Pirates’ rotation had to do was hold the fort until the 6′-8″ man-child was deemed ready.
It was that simple.
I suppose everyone was hoping that a magical switch would trigger this year for Glasnow and he would get his major bugaboo under control — specifically, his lack of control. April started out promising for him, as he issued only 7 walks in 21 innings, paired with 30 strikeouts. But after that, AAA hitters adjusted to Glasnow and started to lay off his potentially devastating curve. In May he gave up 18 free passes in 35 innings. In June, it was even worse at 26 in 34 innings. Predictably, there were the factions of the fanbase that didn’t care and screamed “He can’t be worse than Jeff Locke and Jon Niese!!!” While theoretically true, a pitcher that issues too many walks invariably will lead to a strain on the bullpen with short outings and high pitch counts. At least Locke and Niese sucked more efficiently.
So July started and Glasnow was not in Pittsburgh. The dreaded Super Two deadline had long since passed, so it was clearly an issue with performance and not finances. Tyler Glasnow just wasn’t good enough to be here. Not only did his command/control need to be enhanced, but his inability to keep runners from running wild on him in AAA was an issue, too. So it was somewhat of a surprise when the Pirates brought Glasnow up for his debut against the Cardinals on July 7th, partly because they needed a fresh arm. He pitched…OK. His final line of 5.1 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K would look much better if noted gas can Arquimedes Caminero didn’t come in and give up a three-run bomb, with two of the runs charged to Glasnow’s line. He was sent down after the game and not recalled until July 23rd, where he only lasted 3 innings until he developed ominous “shoulder issues”.
For me, shoulder issues are a death knell. Elbows can be repaired with fairly decent success rates, but shoulders are still elusive in the baseball medical world. So it has been a relief to see Glasnow back at all this year, as he has been since September 11th. With the Pirates’ season essentially over since Labor Day, September has pretty much been a glorified Instructional League for the Pirates to view Glasnow’s progress.
Prior to Sunday’s start, Glasnow had a pair of 3 inning relief appearances and a 1 inning relief inning. I was in attendance for his start on Sunday at PNC Park, which lasted only 67 pitches through three innings. Clearly, they just want to see him get work in and refine some issues with Ray Searage. What I saw was very disappointing to me. I didn’t see a very good pitcher with low-end #1/high-end #2 potential.
Instead, I saw a pitcher that is interminably slow to the plate. You don’t need a stopwatch to time him; you can be safe using a sundial. In the first inning, the Nationals were having free reign on the basepaths. Ben Revere stole both 2nd and then 3rd on a double steal with Wilmer Difo. Not only was he slow to the plate, but he was also slow in between pitches. Shortening his time between pitches will help him get in a better rhythm. Additionally, his offseason checklist has to include a quicker slide step and a passable pickoff move to first base.
He frequently was out of sync with Eric Fryer, which tells me that he has trust issues both in his stuff and in his catcher calling the game for him. The fastball was good, not great. The curves that he did properly locate got swings and misses, but it was not as strong of a pitch as Jameson Taillon’s yakker.
What follows is a look at an admittedly small sample size of Major League innings. I know this is not gospel, but it’s all I got.
In his 18 innings, Glasnow’s fastball has averaged just 93 mph. When he was firing on all cylinders in the minors, it was more like 95-97 mph. Perhaps the Pirates’ staff is advising him to take a little something off to garner some command right now. Maybe it’s due to the lingering shoulder issues. The bigger problem is that his change is coming in at 89.5 mph, which is far too small of a separation from his fastball’s velocity. One of things holding Glasnow back from the Majors was his lack of a strong 3rd pitch to keep hitters honest. He’s only thrown the change 3% of the time and 11 times total, so even though it hasn’t been crushed (yet), it has also graded out poorly.
Here’s a tabular look at his pitches, via BrooksBaseball.net, during his time in Pittsburgh:
Batters are hitting his fastball at a .333 clip, but eyeball that BABIP, too. Clearly, that .440 will come back to Earth on a longer timeline. The curve, though, is where a lot of the damage has been coming from. Two triples and a homer doesn’t scream out “squeaker that found a hole in the infield”. He’ll have to keep refining the location on it if it will be truly be his out pitch.
Between the so-so results and the shoulder issues casting a grey cloud over his performance, it’s impossible to pencil Tyler Glasnow into the Opening Day 2017 rotation. The rotation, at this point, is sparse behind Cole and Taillon. Glasnow should be in it, but he has a lot to work to do to earn it. There are rotation candidates that may not be here (Locke) and rotation candidates that haven’t shown me much (Brault). I suppose Kuhl could be the #5, but I’ve always felt and still do that he’s best served in the bullpen. Glasnow is in the murky limbo of these camps. His stuff and pedigree say he should be given every opportunity, but his performance to-date has left me longing for much, much more.