(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)
Watching the development of an unpolished hurler into an ace has become blasé for Rays fans over the past decade. With financial flexibility handicapped by the nature of the team’s diminutive market capacity, Tampa Bay has been trapped in the cyclical process of developing elite starting pitchers, only to deal their services elsewhere at the moment loyal fans finally develop an infatuation for them. The likes of Scott Kazmir, David Price, James Shields, Matt Garza, and Matt Moore all saw their careers hit the ground running while playing at Tropicana Field, a stadium that draws crowds more closely resembling the attendance of a weekly bingo gathering for senior citizens than a professional baseball game. Each of the players mentioned above were ultimately dealt as their accrual of service time signaled for impending lofty contract demands that were bound to lead to free agent departures. The circumstances surrounding the team’s tight budget have resulted in the necessity for constant innovation and staying ahead of the curve; the team caused many old-school thinkers to turn over in their graves in synchronization with their well-chronicled deployment of relievers as “openers” this season.
The Rays organizational model is contingent on the club’s ability to constantly acquire the right players in the draft, trades, and free agency: some teams have the luxury of being able to “white out” their mistakes with their abundance of capital to lure in free agents, but this isn’t an option for the Rays. Instead, they’ve made a tradition of constantly oscillating the openness of their window, while seldom allowing it to creep towards being completely shut. As a result, they’ve eluded the commonly dreaded full rebuild that often entails a complete “cleaning of the house,” instead opting to only jettison aging veterans in exchange for controllable young players. With an indisputable track record of success with acquiring this youth, the Rays hoped to strike gold again during this year’s deadline. The major move they made was a tough one to swallow for many fans: the team’s longest-tenured player, Chris Archer, was dealt to Pittsburgh for a king’s ransom of a package that included big-league ready young talent in Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, in addition to Shane Baz, a top prospect in the lower minors. Glasnow was immediately installed into the Rays’ rotation, and has been nothing short of dominant. Most importantly, the hulking 6’7” right-hander has demonstrated an ability to do something that people in the Pirates’ organization were longing to see out of him for years: avoid giving hitters free passes.
In his short tenure with the Rays, Tyler Glasnow has been exactly the electric flamethrower the Pirates envisioned he would one day become. His time with Pittsburgh was characterized by extreme inconsistencies, with Glasnow sometimes pitching like a machine programmed to incessantly punch batters out, while occasionally resembling a human Easy Pass device: he would walk the entire ballpark without making the opposition do any work. Long plagued by control problems that masked his true talent from showing in the numbers, the right-hander has suddenly shown drastic improvement in this department, with just a 7 % walk rate to go with an unfathomably high 46.5 % strikeout rate. Since Glasnow debuted with the Rays on August 1, only Justin Verlander has a K-BB % exceeding his 39.5 % clip. This wouldn’t be the first time Tampa has played host to the evolution of a young, control-challenged hurler with a nasty repertoire into a front-line starter: Blake Snell has already reaped the benefits of drastically improved control this season with his selection as a first-time All-Star. It’s ill-advised to place players into categories and insinuate that Snell’s honed command has any bearing on the likelihood that Glasnow will cure his issues, because every pitcher is different at the end of the day. However, Glasnow has shown promising improvement since the trade. Maybe the guy who we saw post nauseating walk numbers over the past few seasons in Pittsburgh was just a Tyler Glasnow doppelgänger?
Glasnow was ranked among the game’s top pitching prospects on his way through the Pirates’ pipeline, possessing an electric fastball that shoots out of his hand, in addition to a plus curveball. After struggling with his command early on in his big league career, Glasnow was shifted to the bullpen before 2018. He’s thrown his overpowering fastball on an overwhelming majority of his pitches this season, while abandoning his ineffective changeup for the addition of a slider. This emphasis on a fastball-heavy approach has translated into improved numbers for Glasnow, yet his control issues still restrained him from reaching his immensely high ceiling. However, Glasnow has begun to rewrite the narrative through 3 GS with the Rays.
Although the Rays have stretched Glasnow back out by returning him to the rotation, his reformed pitch usage has stayed on par for the course. The heatmaps of fastballs and breaking balls below exhibit the evolution in Glasnow’s attack of hitters with his best offering; it’s immediately clear that the Rays have preached the philosophy of “hard stuff up, offspeed down” to Glasnow. With the Pirates, Glasnow attacked all regions of the strike zone with fastballs, but he’s largely cut-back on his dosage of the heaters low-in-the-zone, by design, with Tampa. In addition, he’s more consistently attacking hitters down-and-in (to a RHH) with the breaking ball. Tyler Glasnow and the Tampa Bay Rays were a match made in heaven: one of the game’s most promising arms fusing with one of the most analytically-integrated organizations is looking like the necessary equation for the creation of the next Rays ace.
Glasnow has already seen the early returns on his new fastball location strategy. He’s induced an astronomical 33.3 % whiff rate on the pitch in August, a career high for any month, in his first three starts with the Rays, commencing with an August 1 three inning outing against the Angels. Experiencing tremendous success while throwing his fastball at a colossal 72.9 % rate, Glasnow has established the pitch as a legitimate 75-plus-grade offering (on the 20-80 scouting scale). With his heater averaging 97.2 MPH since the trade, coupled with the elite extension created from his 6’7” frame attacking downward, Glasnow is infused with seldom paralleled potential. The talent has matched the results for Glasnow thus far with Tampa, as he’s generated an overall whiff rate of 37.0 %, also a career high for any month, which has served as causation for his ridiculous punch-out rate.
Glasnow’s physicality can be both a blessing and a curse; his size results in complex mechanics that he’s struggled to consistently repeat in the past, but when everything clicks in his delivery, hitters might as well close their eyes and hope. The GIF below exhibits the desired mechanics where all the puzzle pieces fit seamlessly together for Glasnow, as Teoscar Hernandez is hopelessly blown away by the 99 MPH heater up-in-the-zone. As if an upper-90s fastball isn’t tough enough to square up, Glasnow’s delivery that features a bunch of limbs flying at you and permits lengthy extension that gives late life to his heater makes the task even more daunting for hitters. It’s worth noting that the Rays Pitching Coach, Kyle Snyder, is a similarly gargantuan-sized man, who has dealt firsthand with the hardships that Glasnow is seeking to terminate.
It took Randy Johnson years to hone his control by more consistently repeating his mechanics, but the rest was history after he did. Glasnow’s diminished walk rate in August is certainly an encouraging step in the right direction, although it should be noted that he previously showed signs of improvement in May, when he posted a 7.9 % walk rate, before reverting to his prior form. However, given the circumstances with the change of scenery, his recent performance in the control department might not be a complete mirage. There could be some further fluctuations in Glasnow’s control, but patience is a virtue, and he’s on the right track for diminishing his walk rates to more acceptable levels permanently.
Glasnow is currently flaunting a 2.25 ERA, assisted by an unsustainable 96.8 % strand rate and a .222 BABIP. It’s unsurprising to see these numbers out of whack from their normal levels, as the spectrum of potential variation in a player’s standing statistics from their true abilities is endless in such a small sample size. However, generating a 16.5 % swinging strike rate and striking out 46.5 % of batters requires skill, and also minimizes the amount Glasnow has benefitted from the BABIP being so low, with only 53.5 % of the hitters he’s retired have put the ball in play.
One area I’d like to see Glasnow improve is his predictability in pitch selection; his fastball is one of the most overpowering pitches in the game, but he’s been too predictable with it when he falls behind in the count. The pitch type by count chart below exhibits how Glasnow could get himself in trouble when he falls behind in the count: hitters should know the heater is coming. Glasnow has yet to throw a breaking ball in a hitter’s count with the Rays, and scarcely did so with the Pirates before the trade. He’s generated strikeouts at a ridiculous rate by utilizing a more balanced attack when ahead of batters, so Glasnow’s breaking pitches are clearly serviceable enough. Considering Glasnow’s control is still a work-in-progress, he’s going to fall behind more often than someone like Aaron Nola, so the fact that he’s been able to get away with almost always throwing fastballs is a testament to the dominance of the pitch. However, if Glasnow wants to stay ahead of the opposition, he should try and drop a breaking ball in on a hitter’s count once in a while; it’s clear Glasnow is most comfortable using his fastball to claw back into at-bats, but big league hitters can hit anyone’s fastball if they know it’s coming.
As we near the playoffs in many fantasy leagues, Glasnow is the type of high-risk, high-reward power arm that owners should consider adding in all formats, if he’s still available. Still just 25-years-young, Glasnow’s coming out party has begun, due to improved command and whistling heaters. Tampa Bay has been masterful in its strategic play to delay the window for contention by a couple seasons, when the rotation should be headlined by Blake Snell and Glasnow, who faces his most daunting task yet against the Red Sox tonight (7:00 EST). If he takes down the almighty Bo Sox, Rays fans can raise their glasses to toast their newest burgeoning star– something they should get accustomed to doing for years to come. We may be watching an ace develop right before our eyes in Tyler Glasnow.