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Checking in on Tyler Glasnow’s changeup

How come we almost never see Glasnow’s “third” pitch?

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

When I spoke with Tyler Glasnow earlier this month about his fastball, he explained that, to get the baseball on track to the plate, he never gets his hand directly behind the ball. Like many pitchers, his hand, “naturally comes to the side of it.”

At this point, we were standing in the long and narrow visitor’s clubhouse at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. Glasnow had frozen his right arm in the air, and was briefly studying his own hand as he spoke, pointing to and prodding at elements of the ball and his grip as he narrated his approach, before making the off-hand comment: “It’s why it’s hard for me to throw a changeup.”

Let’s dive into that more.

After his first start with the Rays last August, I was able to speak with Glasnow about his change (which we hadn’t seen at the time), and wrote the following:

It was then Glasnow revealed his change is in fact a Vulcan, explaining that more traditional changeup grips have elluded him due to the size of his hands.

“It’s a two-seam, kind of like this,” Glasnow explained while providing the Vulcan salute with his palm facing the ground, emphasizing the part of his fingers above the palm.

Unaccustomed to having the baseball buried in his palm, it’s reasonable that Glasnow would search for a grip that would keep the stitching at his fingertips. Changeups and variants like the circle-change thrown by Ryan Yarbrough, among other Rays, just won’t work; he’s tried.

“The circle’s been tough, my hands are so big, so [with the Vulcan] I just kind of get it out.” Here, he emphasized the throwing motion, with an invisible baseball rolling off the tips of his middle and ring fingers.

The vulcan approach, admittedly, didn’t jive in my mind. With a vulcan gip, you can expect anything from a split-change motion to a standard fastball fade, as the ball nestles deep between the fingers, but what Glasnow showed me in 2018 looked more like a jai alai motion than any changeup I was used to seeing. Glasnow mimicked then what he did now, a slow motion throw that visually emphasized the ball rolling off the ends of his fingers.

There was no denying the distinctive salute he gave in describing the grip, but to say that the pitch rolled off the finger tips should have clued me in that there was more to the change grip than just the gap between his middle and ring finger.

After the throwing demonstration in Toronto, I had to double back to check in on the change, and when I asked about the off-speed pitch, Glasnow lit up again.

“It’s coming along,” Glasnow laughed, comfortable with the oddities of his towering size and massive hands in comparison to his peers.

Glasnow has been flashing a change here and there in 2019 (something like nine, with more than 400 pitches thrown as of publishing), but we should note that, without context, one might not recognize them as changeups in the data at all.

With around five inches of rise and armside run, Glasnow’s 92 mph changeup would be a generic two-seem fastball for most pitchers — such is the consequence of throwing 98 mph on the regular.

As for the grip itself, is it a Vulcan? The difference between a Vulcan and a circle-change is subtle, to say the least, but if we didn’t understand each other last year, we did now. “It’s pretty much a normal circle-change, but I’m just holding it on the horseshoe,” Glasnow explained.

The horseshoe?

No matter what you call it, here’s where Glasnow’s change gets interesting.

When pressed, Glasnow demurred in 2019 from calling it a Vulcan because, using his natural approach, “It’s basically a circle change, but on the two-seam.”

Glasnow then flipped his hand over, revealing why he referred to it as a circle-grip.

Here you can really see why it looks like a two-seam fastball! But where most pitchers would place their fingers across the narrowest part of the stitching for two-seam movement, Glasnow is using a wider part of the thread.

“I’ve had it like that for a couple years now,” Glasnow explained, and as with the Rays approach on his fastball, the team seems content to let the pitcher grip the ball in whatever way comes natural to him.

Whatever he’s throwing, may Glasnow’s stuff live long and prosper.