Tyler Glasnow Already Looks Better

Tyler Glasnow allowed a solo home run on Tuesday, but outside of that, he was nearly untouchable. Over four innings, he allowed two hits, with, importantly, zero walks, and, importantly, nine strikeouts. Now, I know what some of you will say, because I’ve already seen it on Twitter. “Who cares? It was the Orioles.” And indeed, the Orioles suck. But when Glasnow made his Rays debut against the Angels the week before, he was similarly effective. There was a solo homer, but also a bunch of strikes and whiffs over three solid innings. Glasnow is two (semi-)starts into his Rays career, and he’s made an outstanding first impression.

It should go without saying that we’ll need a lot more data. With Tampa Bay, Glasnow has taken the mound all of two times, and that’s only two times more than zero. The Rays need to see Glasnow pitch a lot more often, and that’s what’s going to happen from here on out. We can’t say whether Glasnow already is better. But he *looks* better, and this kind of topic is right in my wheelhouse, since Glasnow is a pitcher whose results haven’t yet matched up with his stuff. Let me quickly walk you through what I find encouraging.

Results mean less when you have less information, but I can’t think of a better place to start. If you know anything about Glasnow’s history, you know he’s been a power pitcher, but he’s never excelled throwing strikes in the majors. With the Rays, he’s faced 25 batters. He’s walked only one of them, while recording 14 strikeouts. The first time out, he threw 71% strikes; the next time out, he threw 69% strikes. At this writing, there are 64 pitchers who have thrown at least 100 pitches in August. Glasnow ranks seventh among them in strike rate. He ranks second among them in zone rate, and he ranks second among them in whiff rate. Glasnow has been hard to hit, but he’s also gotten ahead. That’s something we haven’t seen very much.

What does it mean to have Glasnow throwing strikes? In the following plot, you see Glasnow’s big-league career, in rolling 100-pitch averages. On the y-axis, rolling strike rates:

Glasnow isn’t doing something he’s literally never done. Just this past May, he had a brief strike-throwing hot streak. That was followed by a period of regression. But the point isn’t that Glasnow has entered uncharted territory. Rather, this is something he hasn’t done often. Even over only two appearances, we see enough to say that something might just be up. Glasnow has pitched with greater accuracy.

Beyond the results, we can see the early signs of a change in process. Glasnow stands 6’8, and when he was traded, one of the early talking points was that he’d have a similarly-sized pitching coach in Kyle Snyder. I don’t know how much that’s going to help Snyder get Glasnow straightened out, but at least as far as Snyder goes, I’d like to highlight the following excerpt from DRays Bay:

It’s for that reason Glasnow is excited to work with Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder. “His idea of how I should pitch matched up with mine,” Glasnow explained earlier this week. “Up in the zone and down in the zone.”

The only thing left to do is to get to work. “I think all the analytic stuff here, I’m pretty open-minded to it. We sat down, talked about that,” Glasnow explained. “I think I can get more strikes and we’ll sit down and get more in-depth with everything. Coming in I can already tell he knows a lot.”

Up in the zone and down in the zone. This is hardly revolutionary — the Rays didn’t invent throwing fastballs up and breaking balls down. But Glasnow is a fastball/curveball pitcher, and I’d like to show you a couple of heat maps. On the left, Glasnow with the Pirates this season, through the end of July. On the right, Glasnow in the early going with the Rays in August. Look, specifically, in the lower areas.

The darkest parts look kind of similar. On the left, however, you see a lot of Glasnow pitches ending up around the zone’s lower edge, or below. On the right, not so much. Glasnow has worked a little more up, mostly with his fastball. In this rolling-average plot, you see Glasnow’s career rates of fastballs thrown below the lower limit of the strike zone:

Again, it’s not literally unprecedented, but it almost is. Glasnow, historically, has thrown a pretty high rate of his fastballs low. Because he’s not a pitcher with pinpoint command, many low fastballs would miss and end up below the knees. Glasnow’s heater hasn’t worked down there very much with Tampa Bay. There’s more of an emphasis on throwing strikes, and on throwing upper-half strikes, and Glasnow so far has attacked. It’s part strategy, and part not overthrowing. It’s too soon to credit the Rays with some kind of mechanical overhaul, because mechanical adjustments take a while and Glasnow now looks similar to Glasnow before. But there’s no question that recent Glasnow has pitched with more confidence. The Rays have adjusted where he’s aimed some of his pitches, and everything has taken off as a consequence.

In case you need a reminder of the quality of Glasnow’s pure stuff, here’s a fastball:

Here’s a curveball:

Here’s a slider, which is basically the same as the curveball, but with a few extra miles per hour:

The Rays are trying to build Glasnow back up as a starter, and, as a starter, Glasnow might need to fold in something offspeed. His offspeed pitch would be the worst of his repertoire. But he got to 61 pitches without throwing it yesterday. And with the Rays, of course, “starter” might not mean what it would for another organization. Maybe Glasnow will grow to work over six-inning stints. Maybe he’ll work instead over three- or four-inning stints. Mission No. 1 is to get Glasnow to throw consistent strikes over any amount of time, and the early signs are terrific. Glasnow is already having success, and it’s clear his pitches are just naturally overpowering. He doesn’t have to get that much better to be great.

There’s something important to remember here. In the majors, pre-Tampa Bay, Glasnow hadn’t thrown many strikes for any real length of time. But just last season, over a stretch of 13 starts in Triple-A, Glasnow threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, with 24 walks and 121 strikeouts in 82.1 innings. Glasnow’s already been amazing at the next-highest level. The Rays just have to coax that out of him in the bigs, similar to the plan with Jalen Beeks. The Pirates grew sufficiently frustrated, which is why Glasnow became available in the first place. The Rays saw only opportunity, hoping that a tweaked approach would yield superior outcomes. There’s a chance the Glasnow and Chris Archer career-trajectory lines will intersect.

The long and short of it: This could be a tease. Wouldn’t be the first time Glasnow has teased. But he’s almost never looked this good in the majors before. You couldn’t blame the Rays if they’re already falling in love.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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5 years ago

Man. This is why Tampa is never sucky and always decent. I wish my small-market team could be like Tampa

5 years ago
Reply to  strycal

Is your small market team the Pirates?

5 years ago
Reply to  jsolid

In fairness, the Pirates basically stole Corey Dickerson from the Rays and obtained significantly better results (especially in the outfield).

5 years ago
Reply to  dcweber99

Except the Rays DFA-ed Dickerson. Where are you getting “stole” from?

5 years ago
Reply to  nate0605

Daniel Hudson’s contract?

5 years ago
Reply to  strycal

Yeah. I’ve often wished that my small market team, the Mets, would be a little less risk averse and more forward thinking. Even if your moves don’t pan out, it’s still fun to watch as a fan.

5 years ago
Reply to  Stupideas22

Did you just call New York City a “small market”?

5 years ago
Reply to  strycal

Yeah, I love rooting for mediocre teams year after year. Lol