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Tyler Glasnow, Ascending

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or, why Glasnow’s worst start of this young season might have been his most impressive

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Saturday we did not see Tyler Glasnow at his best.

This was not close to Tyler Glasnow’s best game. Not of his career, or of his season, and not even of this week! But this early season day game at Yankee Stadium, this most likely forgettable start, this game showed us that Tyler Glasnow is ascending to the next level of pitcher.

His final box score reads 5 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 7 K, 13 whiffs on 105 pitches. For those that watched it’s remarkable Tyler was able to survive with such a totally fine line. He went 5 innings when at multiple times it looked like he might need to leave due to wildness, mechanical breakdown, or severe hand cramping. Seriously, what an adventure these 5 innings were, but they also showcased how a dominant pitcher can survive when he doesn’t have the A stuff or even B stuff.

I tend to write articles that emerge out of my interest in baseball analytics. Today, however, you are getting pure emotion. To my eye, Tyler Glasnow’s Saturday performance, gritting it out without good command or his best stuff, was the true performance of an ace.

1st Inning

After two quick outs, Glasnow surrendered a hit, a somewhat tricky error, and a very wild walk to load the bases. Brett Gardner, always pesky, came to the plate. Glasnow was in a battle with Gardner, and despite a brutal missed strike 3 call

Glasnow was able to get out of the jam and induce Gardner to ground out to Yandy at 1B.

It’s a mature and impressive moment to recover from an error and a bad missed call, either of which would have ended the inning, while playing a dangerous team on the road, where extra outs and strikes tend to turn into lopsided innings awfully quick.

2nd Inning

This is where the worries really escalated. Glasnow walked Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshella to start the inning. Reading that Glasnow walked the first two men in an inning is a disservice to just how panic-inducingly wild he was in this inning. Just look at these charts for 2nd inning pitches!

Legitimately, there were murmurs of concern over what was happening. It was like Glasnow got Space Jam’d and lost his ability to pitch.

Kyle Snyder came out to chat. Glasnow’s dropped his fastball velo to 95 frequently this inning, seemingly in an effort to try and gain command. After getting Rougned Odor to pop-out weakly, DJ LeMahieu got enough contact to lift a ball the other way for a single. Not hard hit still, but enough to get a run in.

Next came Aaron Judge and a chance again for the Yankees to break the game open. After a wild pitch gave the Yankees more runners into scoring position, Glasnow reached back and fired two very good and very pretty fastballs right by Judge for a K. Even without the feel for any of his breaking balls, Glasnow was able to get Hicks to line out into the shift and escape another jam.

3rd and 4th Inning

After two narrow escapes, Glasnow seemed to lock in a bit. While not showcasing his best command, and with his slider and curve failing to entice any swings out of the zone, he relied on his fastball to notch 3 more Ks with 6 more whiffs in these two frames.

When you have a fastball like this to end the 4th, and you trust it, command issues suddenly can be overcome.

5th Inning

And finally, we get to the weirdest affliction to face Glasnow on the day: hand cramps!

At this point, it was hard to imagine how much more Glasnow could give. Tyler toughed it out, downed some water, and stayed in. The 5th continued to be a struggle to tame the wild stallion that was his command.

Wildness, cramps, and yet Glasnow finished the 5th allowing just one walk, added two more Ks (on both Judge and Stanton), and most importantly 0 runs.

Here’s what it all means.

The Next Level

Tyler Glasnow has been one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball so far in 2021. He has showcased a level of dominance, command, and comfort in the ace role that puts him in that upper echelon of pitchers. But when a pitcher is on, when they have their A-game, when they have all their stuff working, things are easy and even the best hitters will struggle. It’s when pitchers don’t have all their pitches working that you can learn a lot about their makeup. What sets guys like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander apart isn’t just their ability to annihilate the opposition when all goes well, it’s their ability to dig deep and find just enough to give their team a chance to win, even when it’s not their day.

In this April start in the Bronx, Tyler Glasnow had plenty of opportunities to go off the rails. He could have easily become frustrated, lost focus, been rattled by the fact that his pitches just weren’t going where he wanted them to go. And plenty of young, talented pitchers can have these things snowball on them. A tough inning can into a disaster in the blink of an eye. Tyler Glasnow had 3 out of 5 innings that could have caused this game to slip away from him.

“And yet”

That was the phrase that kept leaping to mind. All of the issues categorized above, “and yet” Glasnow escaped. Command failing, “and yet” still able to strike out titan pinstriped sluggers. He helped to create a lot of potential problems. “And yet”, Glasnow didn’t let that happen.

He found a way to navigate a dangerous Yankee lineup. He switched up his pitches. He trusted his stuff, and he challenged batters when he needed to. Glasnow showcased the level of mental focus of a 10-year vet. He didn’t let any of the emotions, the panic, the hostile crowd ready to throw more objects onto the field at a moment's notice, get to him. He survived and sometimes even thrived when everybody watching, from the stands, at home, and in both dugouts, knew full well this was not the sharpest he could be.

This felt like the type of start that puts Glasnow into the next level of pitcher.

Tyler Glasnow has the chance to be truly elite. Through struggles and perseverance, Tyler Glasnow showcased flashes of that ascension into the type of pitcher he is capable of becoming. And if this was him not at his best, then Glasnow is well on his way to becoming a true ace.