First Pitch: How Tyler Glasnow Set the Bar Way Too High This Year

Tyler Glasnow (Actual Photo)
Tyler Glasnow (Actual Photo)

Tyler Glasnow had an amazing season. Not counting his playoff start tonight — which didn’t go so well and will be his last start if West Virginia gets eliminated — the right-hander had a 2.18 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 111.1 innings. Those strikeout numbers are insane. Consider this:

**Out of all minor league pitchers across baseball with 70+ innings, Glasnow’s 36.3% strikeout rate ranks number one.

**Only five pitchers in all of minor league ball had a 30% or higher strikeout rate with 100+ innings. The closest to Glasnow was C.J. Edwards, who had a 33.1% rate. No one else was above 30.8%.

**Yu Darvish leads qualified starting pitchers in the majors with a 33.9% strikeout rate.

**Only 11 qualified pitchers in the majors have a strikeout rate of 25% or higher this year.

**Dating back to 2006, the closest any minor league pitcher with 100+ innings has come to Glasnow’s 36.3% strikeout rate was Rich Hill with 35.5% in 2006. Matt Moore posted several 33-34% ratios.

**I couldn’t find minor league numbers before 2006, but the last time a MLB starter with 100+ beat Glasnow’s K% was when Randy Johnson struck out 37.4% in 2001.

So to recap, unless there was a minor leaguer from 2002-2005 with a better strikeout percentage, Glasnow has the highest K% in all of baseball since Randy Johnson in 2001.

Like I said: insane.

It also might be unfair. Consider these numbers by other pitchers in the Pirates’ system:

Jameson Taillon – 22.2% in AA

Nick Kingham – 26.5% in A+, 22% in AA

Ryan Hafner – 26.9% in A

Luis Heredia – 19.9% in A

Cody Dickson – 26% in A-

Wei-Chung Wang – 22.7% in GCL

Jon Sandfort – 21.3% in GCL

Those are all pretty dominant numbers for their respective leagues. For example, Clayton Kershaw struck out 24.5% of batters in 61 innings in Double-A in 2008. Matt Harvey struck out 24.7% in 59.2 innings in Double-A, and 23.7% in 110 innings in Triple-A.

You’ve got Taillon and Kingham posting a 22% each in Double-A. Hafner was striking out over a quarter of his batters in A-ball in extended relief, which was extremely dominant. Heredia was only 18 years old for most of the year, and struck out almost 20% of batters in a league where the majority of batters were 3-4 years older than him. All of those numbers are impressive.

Earlier today I talked about Gerrit Cole, noting that he has been the second best pitcher in the Pirates’ rotation in the second half, according to xFIP, and that his strikeout rate has been around 21% in the second half. Cole could use a bump to be among some of the top ten starters in baseball, but he’s only 22 so there’s plenty of time for that bump to come. Still, a 21% strikeout rate at his age is impressive.

It’s important to have some perspective when it comes to Tyler Glasnow. This isn’t supposed to be the expectation for pitchers. Glasnow doesn’t set the bar for “dominance” among minor league pitchers. You don’t look at him and say “it’s good that the Pirates finally have a starter dominating the minors”. What Glasnow is doing goes well beyond that. Glasnow’s numbers this year mean two things.

First, the numbers show just how incredible of a season he had. It is only A-ball, but striking out 36% of batters and maintain that pace over 100 innings? That’s impressive no matter what level you’re at. Glasnow was at a level where he was 2-3 years younger than most of his opponents. His season would have been amazing with a 26% strikeout rate.

Second, it’s almost inevitable that Glasnow will see his numbers drop as he moves up. Just the fact that he’s the first pitcher to post a strikeout rate this high since 2006 (and maybe since 2001), tells you that you shouldn’t expect this every year. As seen with Matt Moore, nothing prevents a guy from posting strong strikeout rates multiple years in a row (although Moore is a lefty, which might help him a bit). Chances are Glasnow will be dominant next year in Bradenton (and maybe Altoona in the second half), but he won’t be close to this year’s strikeout numbers.

That’s not a bad thing. Glasnow’s strikeout numbers this year aren’t the mark of a dominant pitcher. Glasnow’s strikeout numbers this year are the mark of someone playing a video game on easy. A video game they’ve clearly been playing the game for years. And they picked the best pitcher against the worst team, all to try and throw a perfect game and win $1 M. And then they realize that you can’t set it on easy to be eligible. Then they realize this particular game hasn’t made any actual upgrades for three years, and is relying on Kate Upton and the Perfect Game gimmick for sales. And then you wish you had a Playstation so you could play MLB The Show. But you don’t know if you should buy a PS3 when the prices are low, or go for the PS4, thinking long-term to a point where they stop making PS3 games. Then you realize you don’t play video games that much anyways, and…

Tyler Glasnow (Artist Depiction)
Tyler Glasnow (Artist Depiction)

Sorry. Got off track there. Anyway, the point here is that Tyler Glasnow’s numbers should be appreciated, but not expected. He had one of the most impressive strikeout rates in all of baseball in a long time. While that should be appreciated, it should also be separated from what anyone else in the Pirates’ system is doing. There are dominant pitchers, and then there’s Tyler Glasnow. He doesn’t set the bar. He just looks down on it, like Zeus looking down from Mount Olympus, knowing he has the capability to throw lightning bolts that would destroy any mere mortal down below. Or, you know, like a pitcher who put up (possibly) the best K% in baseball since 2001.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: The Austin Meadows Show Continues in Jamestown

**Is Gerrit Cole Starting to Realize His Potential?

**Minor League Schedule: Indianapolis Tries to Even Up Series With Durham

  • He doesn’t have an innings base like college kids do to fall back on if he is accelerated. That’s what happened to Dylan Bundy IMO.

    • I think Bundy was more about his workout routine, and the fact that he threw 293 pitches in a four day span in high school. That included two separate games in the same day where he threw 181 pitches.

      That kind of stuff hurts more than a steady increase in innings.

      • CalipariFan506
        September 5, 2013 4:01 pm

        Both guys were drafted in 2011. Bundy threw over 100 innings in 2012 while Glasnow threw 38 plus some extended spring training. He went up over 100 this season. I think that buffer year Glasnow had makes a big difference for HS kids.

        • Definitely a big difference.

          Also, don’t discount the extended ST innings. That can be about 30 innings for a starter. So Glasnow could have been around 70 innings last year. Still not as much as Bundy, but you can see that he didn’t make a massive jump this year to 111. They’re going with a steady approach.

          That said, Taillon had 92 innings in his first year out of high school, plus some EST innings. So it’s not like they do this with every prep pitcher.

          It’s also important to remember that Glasnow wasn’t like Taillon/Bundy last year. He was 88-91 MPH in ST, and only started getting up to 96 at the end of the year. This year he started holding that mid-90s velocity better. Those guys came in as highly touted prospects. Glasnow was just another projectable prep pitcher.

  • Usually when someone posts crazy numbers in some level of the minors, let alone historically crazy numbers, isn’t it just a possible indication that they’re not at an appropriate level?

    I know this was only his age-19 year (now 20), but numbers are so skewed by level-of-competition that it just may be that you need to change his denominator, i.e. maybe instead of watching him historically dominate A-level, he should have been at A+ for part of that time.

    Don’t want to rush him through too much, but you also have to consider whether letting him historically plow through a certain level is actually challenging him enough at that stage of his development. Not saying you invite him to ST 2014 :-), but it might be time to hit the accelerator a bit.

    • pitching is a little bit different than hitters in the minors…while you can have completely dominant stuff, there are still so many things to work on as a pitcher that it takes time to get through the minors. you saw that the main thing they worked on this year was control and that improved drastically over the course of the season. next year, i suspect theyll focus on developing the change-up to give him a third major pitch. i would imagine he takes the taillon route and pitches most of the year at a+ next year then aa for the last month if he does well

    • We’re only looking at strikeout numbers here. I posted an article a few weeks ago about his walk numbers. At the start of the year he was around a 6 BB/9. As the year went on he dropped to a 3 BB/9, although he had issues in his final starts. There are a few reasons he was in low-A. One is that the Pirates always have pitchers spend the entire year at that level, to get them used to pitching in full season ball. In Glasnow’s case, he was on a reduced schedule at the end of the year to limit his innings. That’s easier to do in WV than Bradenton. You’ve got more pitchers in WV who can move to the rotation from the bullpen than you do in Bradenton.

      Also, there’s the fact that Glasnow has things to work on, as seen with the walks. Everyone rushes to move a guy up at the first sign of success, but the Pirates approach is good. They get criticized for being slow, but there’s a benefit to being slow and steady. Based on previous pitchers, Glasnow could go to high-A/Double-A in 2014, then Triple-A/MLB in 2015 at the earliest. That puts him in the majors at the age of 21. If you move him up to Bradenton this year, you don’t change that timeline. What you do is:

      1. Remove him from a playoff race.
      2. Take away the experience of pitching with one team at one level for a full season.
      3. Force him to work on his issues at a harder level as he’s winding down due to his innings.
      4. Blow up the Bradenton pitching staff because they’re not built for a guy who will only start four times in August and who is limited to 4-5 innings per start.

      So the benefits of moving Glasnow up early, if there are any, are heavily outweighed by the downsides.

  • I am impressed with Glasnow, but whether his stuff is good enough to get hitters out going forward is to be determined. I like the fact that his pitch selections are not restricted he throws all his pitches from what I saw.

  • Tim, where do you expect Glasnow to fall in next year’s Pirates prospect rankings (stay at 3?), as well as the league wide prospect rankings? Conceivable to have 3 top-20 prospects and maybe 5 top-50 prospects?

    • He will probably stay at 3. He’s been cracking the top 25 in some league wide rankings, so he could end up there. I think he’ll be in all top 50 lists.

  • I only hope the Pirates don’t rush him too quickly. He only has 110 IP so he needs two more full minor league seasons to get up around 160-170 with maybe a June 2016 call up.

  • MLB video game rant….spot on. Picture of Glasnow…worried about that back foot coming up off the ground a little to early in the delivery.

  • Hey Tim. Wait for the PS4

    • I’ll probably end up waiting for the PS4 to come down in price. I rarely play video games as it is, so I can’t really justify paying $500 just to play one game a year that I don’t already get on XBox. I just wish the MLB 2K series actually improved. Or that The Show came to XBox. I miss the days of video game competition.

  • ehhh…he doesn’t impress me at all. He needs to get his walks down before I get excited.

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  • I would say it is also certainly not out of the question that he may struggle in Bradenton next year, as well. Hopefully this offseason, with another year of maturity and working with that big frame of his, we will see some improvements with his command/walks. Without that, when he moves up levels, we may see him get hit around or at least post an ERA north of 4.00 (or near it). Hope that is not the case, obviously! But just keeping on the realistic theme. There are few words to describe the kind of year he had this year!

  • Great article Tim. I knew glasnow was having a great season, but I didnt realize how dominate he was. Specially for how young he is.