I was a little bit surprised to see yesterday afternoon that in the immediate aftermath of and rejoicing about Tyler Glasnow’s promotion to start for the Pirates this afternoon, a small group of Pirate fans were already snarking. “Oh, so his control issues are magically fixed now?” The answer is that, no, his control problems aren’t magically fixed. Tyler Glasnow isn’t quite like any Pirate pitching prospect that’s been called up recently for the Pirates, and it’s worth taking some time to understand why.
Most teams would consider themselves lucky to have one pitching prospect like Gerrit Cole. The Pirates paired Cole and Jameson Taillon through the minors until Taillon’s injury problems, and even before Cole arrived in Pittsburgh, Tyler Glasnow was emerging in the low minors. Glasnow’s minor league jaunt has been the exact opposite of the journey’s of Cole and Taillon. Those two were both relatively polished as high draft picks, and much of their time in the minors focused on them refining certain aspects of their game at the cost of gaudy stat lines. Glasnow is all gaudy stat line; he’s 35-18 with a 2.01 ERA ad 614 strikeouts in 479 1/3 minor league innings.
That happened because Glasnow is the most obvious and successful product of the Pirates several year obsession with drafting tall, lanky high school pitchers and hoping that they would turn into fireballing strikeout machines. Most of those prospects did not. Glasnow did. Since Glasnow’s emergence as a prospect in 2013, all focus has been on his command. He walked 61 hitters in 111 1/3 innings in that breakout year of 2013, and he’s never quite reined that command in. Even in his basically unhittable run at Indianapolis in June (he has a .102 BAA since June 1), he walked 27 hitters in 40 innings.
When I saw Glasnow last August, this made for a weird watching experience. Glasnow didn’t walk a ton of guys in that start in Durham, but every at-bat was a battle. As soon as he put guys on, he struggled to hold those runners in place (I assume he’s done better with this this year, as he’s allowed eight steals in 13 attempts total, whereas he allowed six in the one game I saw las year). He worked really slowly because of this, and the whole start felt like a struggle for him, even though his stuff was incredible and he only allowed one run in 4 2/3 innings.
I’m bringing all this up again, because that’s what it means when the Pirates say they’re worried about Glasnow’s command and that he’s not polished. Where Cole and Taillon came with incredible fastballs and inherently great stuff, Glasnow grew into his arm while in the Pirates’ system and so he’s developing along a different path.
We’ve more or less hit the point that Starling Marte hit at the end of his run as a prospect, though; Glasnow’s control isn’t perfect, but it probably doesn’t do him much good to continue pitching against guys that literally cannot hit him, just like Marte didn’t have great plate discipline, but great plate discipline isn’t required when you’re crushing the ball. With the Pirates either examining Jon Niese’s knee or frantically trying to trade him, now is a perfect time to put Glasnow into a game and see how he looks.
I honestly don’t know what to expect from Glasnow today, and I’m a bit nervous. There’s a decent chance, I think, that he has a game similar to the one I saw or to one of the other really rough starts he had when he first got promoted to AAA last year. This is not a great match-up for him; the Cardinals have some very good left-handed hitters (although they did just put Carpenter on the disabled list), and they’re at least an average-ish National League team when it comes to drawing walks.
None of this is me trying to be critical of Glasnow; I’m just pointing out how he’s different than the two guys that he’s so often compared with. I said this a couple of weeks ago, but Taillon’s early starts are actually a great illustration of how Glasnow could struggle. Taillon might not have been better than Glasnow in Indy this year, but he was certainly more polished, and yet in his first few starts he hit rough patches where he didn’t trust his changeup (which is a better pitch than Glasnow’s changeup) and he couldn’t hit his spots. If that happens to Glasnow today, it’ll probably be much uglier than it was for Taillon.
And yet, it’s time. Glasnow throws smoke, he’s got a great curveball behind it, and he’s been working diligently on his changeup. His results in Triple-A suggest that even if he struggles with his command today, the Cardinals may not be able to hit him. The Pirates are playing great baseball and they risk that every time they put Jon Niese on the mound, but they can’t really replace Niese if they don’t at least look at Glasnow. We’re all going to see him today, and while I’m nervous, I’m excited, too.
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