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Tampa Bay Rays season preview: The time is (Glas)now

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MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 2014, someone not named Chris Archer will take the ball on opening day.

That’s because the Rays former No. 1 starter was traded last July in a deal that returned right fielder Austin Meadows, minor league pitcher Shane Baz, and the subject of this story, Tyler Glasnow.

The fifth round draft pick by the Bucs in 2011 was ranked 26th on FanGraphs top 100 prospects list as recently as 2017. In a rather small major league sample, though, he hasn’t exactly been a resounding success. The Rays, however, think that will change.

While Glasnow likely won’t take the ball on opening day for the Rays either, he nonetheless begins 2019 penciled in as one of only three traditional starting pitchers on the Rays roster. His back of the baseball card numbers may not show it, but he’s ready to live up to the hype.

A lot to like

If you look at Glasnow’s numbers as a Ray and Archer’s numbers as a Pirate, it looks like the Rays traded Chris Archer for Chris Archer.

Glasnow vs. Archer

Name ERA FIP SO/9 BB/9 HR/9
Name ERA FIP SO/9 BB/9 HR/9
Tyler Glasnow 4.20 4.38 10.3 3.1 1.6
Chris Archer 4.30 4.00 10.3 3.1 1.4

But Glasnow is a different kind of pitcher. His 6-foot-8 frame makes him an imposing figure on the mound, and his reach creates a difficult angle for hitters to hit.

Additionally, his fastball can reach triple digits, and his big, 12-6 curveball is as good a weapon as any in baseball. He has good spin with a 96.5 MPH average velocity, Glasnow is among the hardest throwers in the league, with colleagues Charlie Morton (96.1) and Blake Snell (95.8) not too far behind.

But spin and velocity aren’t everything, of course. It doesn’t mean much if the results aren’t there. In Glasnow’s case though, they are. If you’re more of an eye-test person, you’ll want to check this out:

No thanks, just looking.

One. Bad. Start.

On September 5th, Glasnow surrendered 7 runs against the Toronto Blue Jays while only retiring two hitters. After that start, his ERA ballooned to 5.17 as a Ray. Outside of that, however, he was stellar.

Tyler Glasnow before and after September 5th

Time IP SO ERA FIP xFIP
Time IP SO ERA FIP xFIP
Before 30.2 38 3.23 3.45 3.32
After 24.1 24 2.96 4.97 3.45

That’s a pretty significant improvement from his numbers in Pittsburgh, where he had been used exclusively out of the bullpen.

Another reason Glasnow seemed to have underperformed as a whole was due to a high home run rate, resulting in a 4.38 FIP post trade and a 4.97 mark after that infamous September 5th start. After coming to St. Petersburg, Glasnow suffered an unsightly 20.8 HR/FB % — that’s well above the league average. His 3.47 xFIP was much more palatable, and for comparison, Morton’s xFIP was 3.42 in ‘18.

Since HR/FB% tends to stabilize over time, a positive regression is likely here, and we can reasonably expect Glasnow to give up far fewer homers in the coming season.

Keeping ‘em gessing

In an effort to add a deceptive layer to his delivery, Glasnow has added a pause to his motion when the bases are empty in hopes of throwing off the timing of hitters. This isn’t uncommon — others pitchers who change up their timing to the plate include guys like Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, Kyle Freeland, Marcus Stroman and former Ray Alex Cobb.

The change will help him mechanically as well, and he’s already improved his elite fastball velocity and spin rate. Here’s what he told Rays MLB.com beat writer Juan Toribio:

“The motivation behind [the change] was that my biggest problem is that I was always very drifty,” Glasnow said. “I would go forward, because I’m very long-limbed and my arm path is very long. So the longer I stay back, the more success I have, and that showed to be pretty true, especially last year.”

He’s also been working holding runners that do reach base, with Rays pitching coach and fellow 6-foot-8-er Kyle Snyder helping him speed up his delivery to control the running game. This is a less significant change, but a change that can help him suppress the other team’s offense.

What can we expect in 2019?

Before coming to the Rays at last year’s trade deadline, Glasnow was being used out of the bullpen for the Pirates. The Rays saw something more, and slotted him alongside new ace Blake Snell. He’ll continue in that starting role in 2019.

Steamer and PECOTA are pretty close, pegging him for 1.8 WAR and 2.1 WARP, respectively, both having him pitching around 130 innings.

While that would certainly be valuable for a team projected to win anywhere from 85-87 wins, it would be reasonable to expect more if the Rays look to repeat their 90 win season from a year ago.

The Rays aren’t the only ones betting on a big season:

At the 90th percentile, PECOTA projects Glasnow to produce nearly 4 WARP with a 2.54 ERA in 150 innings. If he can find a way to limit home runs (or at least regress to the league average) and continue to limit walks (his walk rate dropped considerably after the trade), thus eliminating those blowup starts, a breakout year and something near that 90th percentile projection is within the realm of possibility.

And if the Rays hope to make a playoff push, that’s exactly what they will need.