Tyler Glasnow’s Considerable Stride and Crucial Small Steps

A humorous anecdote from the Pirates’ offseason CARE-a-van tour to share with you by way of Stephen Nesbitt from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Recently, the Pirates’ top pitching prospect, Tyler Glasnow, heard something pretty funny. He was at a bowling event for Pirates Charities, and one fan piped up with this wisecrack, something about how it would be cool if Glasnow could throw strikes on the baseball field, too.

“Touche,” Glasnow said, laughing, as he retold [last month]. “It’s all right.”

Whether or not Glasnow is able to consistently repeat his delivery and throw strikes, challenging given his 6-foot-8 frame, is of great interest and importance to the Pirates.

It could determine whether he ultimately resides in a major-league rotation or bullpen. It will determine whether he is a successful major-league pitcher. After having been rated as a consensus top-50 prospect for three straight years since he burst on the scene with a plus-plus fastball at Low-A West Virginia in 2013, Glasnow experienced a rocky start to his major-league career last season. He walked 12% of batters faced – in line with his minor-league rate – and allowed quite a bit of solid contact during his small-sample debut of 23 innings.

Glasnow is of interest at the moment for two reasons. For starters, the Pirates’ ZiPS forecasts were published earlier this week and were optimistic about two players who have quite a bit of uncertainty in their 2017 forecasts: Andrew McCutchen and Glasnow. ZiPS calls for Glasnow to produce the second-most wins among Pittsburgh starting pitchers in 2017, more than Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova, who are locks for the rotation, and Chad Kuhl, who probably has the inside track on another spot entering spring.

As MLB.com’s Adam Berry reported in the fall, Glasnow is not guaranteed a rotation spot.

“The ceiling is so high, but there’s clearly some work that remains,” general manager Neal Huntington said at the General Managers Meetings. “If he pitches the way he’s capable of, that’s a very exciting addition to the rotation. He’s absolutely in the mix.”

Glasnow is one of the great wild cards to watch this spring.

He must tighten up his command and address his issues with the running game. Base-stealers were successful 81% of the time against Glasnow in the minors and stole nine bases in nine attempts at the MLB level last season. If he gets those issues under control, then his history of missing bats could vault him near the top of the rotation. Indeed, ZiPS forecasts an elite 27% strikeout rate and 3.60 ERA. Glasnow struck out 22% percent of batters he faced in 23.1 innings last season.

Glasnow is also interesting because of a mechanical issue, which might help his development.

In an attempt to mitigate his issues with walks and the run game, the Pirates are working with Glasnow on shortening his stride, a fact also included in the Post-Gazette piece referenced earlier:

The Pirates refined 6-foot-8 Glasnow’s offseason strength program — throwing earlier, lifting, dunking from time to time — and intend to shorten his stride to help hold baserunners better.

Of course it is his stride, creating rare extension, which helped Glasnow add the most perceived velocity to his fastball among major-league pitchers in 2016:

Glasnow’s fastball averaged 93.5 mph last season but it looked like 96.5 mph to hitters, and a disconcerting reality for opponents is Glasnow’s velocity was inconsistent at the major-league level last season. He’s shown even greater velocity at times during his minor-league career.

To get a visual sense of Glasnow’s rare extension consider this…

But if Glasnow is bringing his landing spot closer to the pitching rubber, and further from home plate, then he will also be reducing his extension. That extension is in part why his four-seam fastball, which is typically not a swing-and-miss offering, has been a swing-and-miss pitch throughout his minor-league career.

So the question becomes: how much perceived velocity do Glasnow and the Pirates want to risk to potentially improve command and run-game control?

Perhaps the effect of shortened stride will be negligible in regard to perceived velocity. It’s something to watch.

Glasnow is an excellent athlete. He hails from a family of athletic prowess. How much will time and repetition simply improve his existing mechanics? While some longer-levered arms best fit in bullpens (see: Andrew Miller) and while there are few 6-foot-8 starting pitchers in the majors, many pitching coaches and evaluators believe it takes more time for taller pitchers to learn and repeat deliveries. So perhaps ZiPS and the rest of us will need to be patient with Glasnow.

Still, watching Glasnow’s adjustment, and any potential improvement, is an interesting storyline to follow this spring.

If ZiPS is correct in its forecast of Glasnow — if Gerrit Cole pitches more like the 2015 Cole, and Taillon and Nova pitch again like their 2016 selves — if all that happens, the Pirates would have a formidable rotation like the club did in 2015 when they won 98 games and finished sixth in baseball in WAR (16.9) produced by starting pitchers.

Last year, the Pirates suffered their first losing season since 2012, and their starters combined for 7.1 WAR, 24th in baseball.

The Pirates short- and long-term success depends largely upon home-grown starting pitching. And there’s not a bigger wild card in 2017 than Glasnow. Even small steps could be meaningful for the pitcher with the game’s greatest stride.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

newest oldest most voted

I can’t imagine he’ll be shortening his stride if he’s working at Driveline this off season. That doesn’t sound like something they would promote. Sounds like a dumb idea to me anyway.


Then again, what do I know. Searage is the genius.