Elbow Injuries Sideline Tyler Glasnow, Who Points a Finger at MLB’s Crackdown

Despite trading Blake Snell to the Padres and losing Charlie Morton to free agency, the Rays currently own the best record in all of baseball at 43-25. Tyler Glasnow has played a significant role in their place in the standings, but the 27-year-old righty’s season is on hold after he landed on the 10-day Injured List due to a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament and a strain of his flexor tendon. While the team is still waiting to determine whether he’ll need surgery, Glasnow made headlines by casting blame on Major League Baseball’s crackdown on grip-enhancing substances, claiming that altering his grip to compensate for going “cold turkey” contributed to his injury.

Glasnow left Monday night’s start against the White Sox after just four innings and 53 pitches, both season lows. Though he allowed two runs to one of the league’s most potent offenses, he didn’t pitch badly, striking out six while walking just one. He matched his seasonal average of 97.0 mph with his four-seam fastball, generated eight swings and misses (seven via his slider) and equaled his 34% seasonal CSW (called strike and whiff) rate as well.

Via the Tampa Bay Times‘ Mark Topkin, Glasnow felt tightness in his elbow but believed he had avoided a worst-case scenario:

Initial word from the team was inflammation, but Glasnow said that he felt “a little tug” and “tightness” in his elbow, first on a 98.2-mph fastball, then during three subsequent pitches to finish the inning.

“I think I got it relatively early,” Glasnow said. “I just was like, I don’t want to go back out and like chance it. I felt it, like, the last four (pitches). The (velocity) and everything was still there. But it just felt not right.”

Glasnow underwent an MRI and consulted with a doctor in Chicago, resulting in the diagnosis. Via MLB.com’s Adam Berry, the Rays said that a timeline for his return will be determined after further evaluation; he’s scheduled to see another doctor on Friday. While the tear itself may not be severe enough to mandate Tommy John surgery, which would knock him out until at least the middle of next season, a sprain significant enough that he receives an injection of platelet-rich plasma would likely mean at least a six-week wait until he’s cleared to throw again, and then several weeks to build up his pitch count. When a frustrated Glasnow spoke to the media via Zoom on Tuesday, he sounded resigned to missing most of the remainder of the season. Via The Athletic, he said, “I’m sitting here, my lifelong dream, I want to go out and win a Cy Young. I want to be an All-Star and now it’s shit on. Now it’s over. And now I have to try and rehab to come back in the playoffs.”

Indeed, Glasnow was pitching his way into All-Star and Cy Young consideration for a team whose Playoff Odds currently sit at 74.6%. He entered Wednesday ranked second in the AL in WAR (2.5), xERA (2.67), strikeout rate (36.2%), and strikeout-walk differential (28.2%) as well as third in FIP (2.76) and fifth in ERA (2.66).

This is the second time in three years the 6-foot-7 fireballer has been sidelined by an arm injury after a stellar start to his season. In 2019, Glasnow missed about four months due to a forearm strain, going down in mid-May after posting a 1.86 ERA, 2.30 FIP, and 33% strikeout rate through his first eight starts. He threw just 12.1 regular season innings in four short starts after returning in September because he didn’t have enough time to stretch out to a full workload, though he made two starts in the Rays’ five-game loss to the Astros in the Division Series.

Regarding UCL sprains and PRP injections, former Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, to cite a high-profile example, missed about 2 1/2 months in 2014 via that combination, and likewise for the Reds’ Michael Lorenzen in ’16. The Marlins’ Wei-Yin Chen returned in just seven weeks in 2016, and the Mets’ Seth Lugo in about 10 weeks in ’17, but he only had to be built up as a reliever. Shohei Ohtani missed nearly three months of pitching after an injection in 2018; he returned to DHing after about four weeks, but made just one September mound appearance before needing Tommy John surgery. Several other pitchers who received such injections wound up getting the surgery before they could return.

Two and a half months from now would mean a September return for Glasnow, but all of this presupposes that his flexor tendon strain — an injury that itself can lead to season-ending surgery, as in the case of Miles Mikolas last year — is minor enough to heal along the same timeline. Really, until we know more about the severity of his injuries and he receives another evaluation, this is just guessing. For now it will suffice to say that his season is deep in the weeds.

For as big a blow as the league’s best team losing its best pitcher might be, Glasnow’s comments on Tuesday made headlines for another reason. On the day that MLB formally announced its plans to issue 10-game suspensions for pitchers caught using foreign substances — whether to enhance their grips or improve the spin rates on their pitches — the pitcher expressed his belief that not using a grip enhancer was a factor in his injury. “I one hundred percent believe that contributed to me getting hurt, no doubt,” said Glasnow. “I have used sticky stuff before. It’s ridiculous that it seems like this whole public perception of select few people — your favorite pitcher probably 50 years ago was using something, too. If you felt these balls, how inconsistent they were, you have to use something. My substance of choice is sunscreen and rosin, nothing egregious, something where I can get a grip on the ball and it doesn’t feel dusty.”

Via the Washington Post, here’s a video containing most of Glasnow’s comments, followed by my own transcription of its highlights:

The pitcher explained the sequence of events that he feels contributed to his injury:

“Two starts ago against the Nationals [June 8], I went cold turkey — nothing. Before that start, I remember when all this stuff came out I was talking to people and talking to doctors and they were like, the thing that maybe MLB doesn’t realize is that… maybe that will add to injuries. And in my mind I was like. ‘That sounds dumb. That sounds like an excuse a player would use to make sure he can use sticky stuff.’

“But I threw to the Nationals with nothing — I don’t use Spider Tack, I don’t need more spin, I have huge hands and I spin the ball fine. I want more grip.

“I did well against the Nationals, probably my best start all year. I woke up the next day and I was sore in places I didn’t even know I had muscles in. I felt completely different. I switched my fastball grip and my curveball grip… I had to put my fastball deeper into my hand and grip it way harder. Instead of holding my curveball at the tip of my fingers, I had to dig it deeper into my hand. So I’m choking the shit out of all my pitches.

…. “Waking up after that start, I was like, ‘This sucks. Something is weird here.’ That same feeling is persisting all week long. I go into my start [Monday] and that same feeling, it pops or whatever the hell happened to my elbow. I feel it. Something happens.”

Ugh. To Glasnow, the issue is less a matter of the league enforcing the rule than the midseason timing:

“I’m not trying to blame anyone, I’m not trying to say it’s all MLB’s fault. They got thrown into this situation and are doing the best they possibly can to navigate around this. They’re trying to make this fair for people, I understand that.

“Whether you want us to not use sticky stuff or not is fine. Do it in the offseason. Give us a chance to adjust to it. But I just threw 80-something innings, then you’ve just told me I can’t use anything in the middle of the year. I have to change everything I’ve been doing the entire season… I truly believe that’s why I got hurt.

“Me throwing 100 and being 6-7 is why I got hurt, but that contributed.

Ouch. For what it’s worth (perhaps not much), Glasnow’s average four-seam fastball spin rate on Tuesday (2,419) was just five RPM below his seasonal average, while the aforementioned June 8 start was 67 below his seasonal average (about half of a season’s standard deviation for most pitchers, according to Eno Sarris) and tied for his second-lowest per-game average. In other words, if he wasn’t using anything to spin the ball against the Nationals, he had other outings earlier this year where his spin rate was similarly low. We’re not talking fluctuations of a few hundred RPM from start to start.

Anyway, the sticky stuff problem is much larger than just Glasnow, and if there’s a silver lining to his absence it’s that maybe MLB will have a better… handle… on the situation by the time he’s able to return. As to how the Rays will deal his absence, obviously he won’t be easy to replace — particularly given that his 88 innings is the league’s second-highest total — though it’s not as though Glasnow had singlehandedly pitched them to the majors’ best record. Granted, their use of openers muddies the accounting a bit, but their starters have pitched to a 3.43 ERA (second in the AL) and 3.69 FIP (fourth).

Lefties Rich Hill, Ryan Yarbrough, Shane McClanahan, and Josh Fleming have been doing the bulk of the work in that capacity, with righties Michael Wacha and Collin McHugh sometimes serving as openers in front of Fleming and Yarbrough. Righty Luis Patiño, a 21-year-old rookie who ranked 12th on our Top 100 Prospects list this spring, and who was the centerpiece in the return for Snell, is currently starting at Triple-A Durham and is the likely candidate to rejoin the mix. From late April to mid-May, Patiño made three starts and two relief appearances totaling 15 innings, acquitting himself well (3.60 ERA, 3.55 FIP) before a right middle finger laceration sent him to the IL; he was optioned upon returning.

Righty Brent Honeywell Jr., a former Top 100 prospect who is back in action after undergoing four arm surgeries in a 3 1/2-year span, might be another option to fill Glasnow’s spot at some point, most likely in an opener capacity given that he’s thrown just 15.2 innings in 11 appearances between Tampa Bay and Durham. Righty Chris Archer, whose trade to the Pirates on July 31, 2018 brought Glasnow to the Rays in the first place, is back in the fold after missing all of 2020 due to surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome; he made just two appearances before suffering a bout of forearm tightness and is eying a mid-July return. Righties Drew Strotman and Shane Baz, who entered the season respectively ranked 17th and seventh on the Rays’ top prospects list, could be options at some point as well. Both are currently at Durham, though the latter — who was the player to be named later in the Archer trade — was just promoted there on Monday after dominating at Double-A Montgomery, with 49 strikeouts and just two walks in 32.2 innings. The July 30 trade deadline will offer an opportunity for fortification from outside the organization as well.

One way or another, the Rays will patch their rotation together and soldier on towards the playoffs, because that’s what the Rays always seem to do, and hopefully Glasnow will be well enough to participate in the ride. In the meantime, as umpires pat down every pitcher, we’ll see if other hurlers lend credence to his theory that the loss of grip-enhancing substances plays a role in pitcher injuries, a dimension that hasn’t received much consideration until now.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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tz
Member

Glasnow’s interpretation and explanation of what happened with him showed far more nuance and critical thinking than the MLB braintrust showed in putting together foreign substance edict.

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

Yes, but to be fair, we really have no idea. We’ll only find out if there’s a rash of other UCL injuries.

Of course by then it will be too late.

EDIT: My goodness, I think we just discovered the worst possible way to increase offense. Tommy John for everyone! Hopefully it won’t happen.

Dee P. Gordon
Member

I wonder what MLB will do when the world runs out of pitchers.

Bobby Ayala
Member

Maybe find pitchers who don’t cheat?

jmwRS
Member
Member

Bobby, I assume you like baseball, otherwise, why come to a site like Fangraphs. By liking baseball, you probably have pitchers that you like, or have liked. Maybe your father or grandfather regaled you with stories of past greats and you listened. Well guess what, all those guys used something to get a better grip on the ball. Welcome to reality, I bet you think most guys didn’t juice during the steroid era or that most ‘60s players didn’t use amphetamines when they extended the season. Don’t be such a noob.

Bobby Ayala
Member

I don’t see how other people doing something excuses ones actions. There are countless bad things people have done in all facets of life that others did before them, it didn’t excuse those actions. Not sure why it’s suppose to here.

I understand some people get caught and some don’t. That’s also something that happens in all aspects of life. The people who get caught are not somehow excused because others did not. Not sure why that would be different here.

I get it, Glasnow is on your dynasty team, maybe you just traded for him, and you’re salty. I’m sorry.

jmwRS
Member
Member

He’s not on any of my winning squads and I’m not salty, just tend to have a healthy disdain for self-righteous asshats like yourself.

You couldn’t be more misguided. Most of us aren’t mental midgets who see the world in an all or nothing sense, this isn’t as simple as “you shouldn’t do that, now you have to suffer the consequences.” Each baseball is different (“No they’re the same!” -Bobbo), truly, and they’re rubbed down with mud before they’re put in play. Some of them still have a grip, others are super slick from the mud that they’re rubbed down in. So, some of the balls are fine, and others are way off. Now if they were all the same, and pitchers were being given a consistent ball, no one ever would have needed rosin and sunscreen in the first place. Because the MLB doesn’t provide a consistent baseball, pitchers have been forced to adjust. Of course pitchers using Spider Tack took it too far and were looking for an advantage, but most guys were just trying to grip the shitty baseball they were handed during the game.

“All aspects of life” spare us the sermon. Baseballs too good for you dude.

The Other Doug
Member
Member
The Other Doug

“I don’t see how other people doing something excuses ones (sic) actions.”
“…some people get caught and some don’t.”

It’s not that simple.

It’s not a matter of “getting caught”. Everyone in baseball – pitchers, hitters, umpires, coaches, trainers, managers, broadcasters, sportswriters, and I would venture to say most serious fans – has known for years that most if not all pitchers use some kind of foreign substance to get a better grip on the ball. Any statement by MLB to the effect that “we didn’t know all these pitchers were using foreign substances” is a flat-out lie. The only reason they haven’t been “caught” is that, just like with steroids twenty years earlier, MLB adopted a deliberate policy of “looking the other way”.
(The only exceptions occurred when the player’s flouting of the rules was so blatantly and publicly obvious that it would have caused MLB considerable embarrassment to let it pass.)

It is a well-established legal principle that laws cannot be selectively enforced, and a law that is never or very rarely enforced becomes legally unenforceable. Or to put it another way, many other people doing something (with the full knowledge and tacit approval of those in authority) and receiving no negative consequences does indeed excuse one’s similar actions. Such is the case with baseball’s rule against applying foreign substances to the baseball. It’s not “cheating” if the relevant authorities have shown themselves to be unwilling to enforce the rule.

Shirtless George Brett
Member
Shirtless George Brett

I dont know. It sounded pretty silly to me actually.

“I have been doing something that is known to damage your UCL for 20 years but it was this minor grip change a week ago that caused my UCL injury”.

Agree to disagree, i guess.