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Three ways a new pitch could potentially help Tyler Glasnow improve in 2021

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But do any of them hold water?

MLB: World Series-Los Angeles Dodgers at Tampa Bay Rays Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier we wrote about how Tyler Glasnow is working on two “new” pitches as he inherits the role of ace in the Rays rotation.

When it comes to adding an extra pitch, there are three potential Glasnow-specific ways that jump out to me that this could improve his game:

  • Third Time Through the Order: The more varied a pitcher’s selection, the less likely a batter is to pick up on them even in a third at bat. There’s a reason relievers can rely on one or two pitches, while starters typically trot out three or more.
  • ERA-FIP Differential: Look at a pitcher like Johnny Cueto, who has consistently performed better by ERA than his FIP/xFIP have said he “deserved.” He’s a guy who uses funky windups and a massive array of pitches to do so.
  • Pitch Tipping Safeguard: The potential pitch tipping that Glasnow may or may not have dealt with could be lessened if there are even more slight gradients of where he’s holding the glove instead of two very obviously distinct slots.

Let’s tackle them one-by-one.

Third Time Through the Order

Quite simply, we don’t have enough data in Glasnow’s career to say anything substantial here.

That being said (!) the early returns actually show Glasnow not having an issue third time through. His OPS allowed the first time through is .713; the second time through: 786, and the third time through drops all the way down to .685.

Now this is massively skewed for Glasnow at this point in his career because of the manner in which he has been used. Both the Rays and the Pirates have had him on quite short leashes in his starts, meaning that only the times in which he appeared to be settled in would he have been given a chance to face the lineup a third time through.

With a pitcher like Blake Snell, in say the sixth game of the World Series, we can debate over whether there is a fallacy to the “pitcher is dealing” logic (there most likely is), but with a raw arm like Glasnow, I think it’s fair to assume some survival bias in those third time through the order statistics. There’s also the fact that we’re dealing with just a 189 plate appearance sample for a third time through, and about twice that for first and second times through.

Overall, I don’t think we can take too much away from this potential quadrant other than to say Glasnow doesn’t have a glaring Third Time Through the Order problem that adding a new pitch or increasing his changeup rate would improve.

ERA-FIP

In 2020, there were 13 pitchers out of 81 to throw at least 50 innings who failed to throw at least three pitchers 10 percent of the time. Here they are with their ERA, their FIP, and their ERA-FIP rank (a higher rank meaning a better outperformance of their FIP):

Pitchers who don’t use at least three pitches 10 percent of the time (2019, min. 50 IP)

Pitcher ERA FIP ERA-FIP rank
Pitcher ERA FIP ERA-FIP rank
Lance Lynn 3.32 4.19 63rd
Spencer Turnbull 3.97 3.49 22nd
Cristian Javier 3.48 4.94 77th
Tyler Glasnow ** 4.08 3.66 24th
Brad Keller ** 2.47 3.43 66th
Framber Valdez 3.57 2.85 12th
Chris Paddack 4.73 5.02 47th
Brady Singer ** 4.06 4.08 37th
Pablo Lopez 3.61 3.09 19th
Garrett Richards 4.03 4.28 46th
Sean Manaea 4.50 3.71 10th
Patrick Corbin 4.66 4.17 20th
Dinelson Lamet ** 2.09 2.48 55th

As the reader can see, there’s no correlation whatsoever. In fact, if anything it looks slightly skewed towards this data set doing better against their FIP if anything. The four pitchers with asterisks next to their name were the four pitchers to throw two pitchers at least 95 percent of the time, and Glasnow is the only one with a higher ERA than FIP.

Of course, 2020 was a very strange year, but going back to 2019, there is still no correlation to be found in having a better pitch mix and outperforming one’s FIP. In fact, if anything, the connection appears opposite again:

2019, min. 100 IP

Pitcher ERA FIP ERA-FIP rank
Pitcher ERA FIP ERA-FIP rank
Brad Keller 4.19 4.35 59th
Julio Teheran 3.81 4.66 105th
Zach Eflin 4.22 4.86 93rd
Matthew Boyd 4.56 4.32 28th
Patrick Corbin 3.25 3.49 67th
Jordan Lyles 4.15 4.64 81st
Jakob Junis 5.24 4.82 23rd
Jhoulys Chacin 6.07 5.88 35th

I think it’s fair to write this original hunch off as just that—a hunch. There is no data here to suggest that a more even pitch mix leads to a better ability to outperform FIP.

Pitch Tipping

Here’s a video breaking down what Glasnow has struggled with at times in giving away to the batter what’s coming:

Of course, our own Dominik Vega wrote an excellent piece late in last season showing that Glasnow may have put that to rest already on his own. Now, I’d like to see a full season like that to know that the issue is really gone, but there are many out there who don’t believe this is an issue even when it has been noticeable. (I don’t fully buy that, but it’s a really tricky data set to fill out so we may need to set it aside for the time being, regardless.)

Conclusion

So where does that leave us? Or better yet, where does it leave Glasnow?

Coming in to these two articles, I was pretty convinced that Glasnow needed a reliable third pitch. It’s what my eyes and gut had told me, but having come out the other side, I’m not so sure.

Glasnow hasn’t really shown any struggles getting through the order a third time in the games in which he has been allowed to make it that far; there’s no widespread evidence of pitchers with a more even distribution of pitches fairing better against their expected results than their two-pitch compatriots (this was the most surprising thing to me); and regarding the pitch tipping: who the hell knows?

Add in the fact that Glasnow injured himself with the changeup last time he gave it some serious run, and it’s fair to wonder whether the whole thing might be worth it or not.

Sorry to leave you all with such a non-committal conclusion, but that’s where I’ve come down. What’re your thoughts?


Previously: