“Forget about the curve ball…Give ‘em the heater!” The immortal words of Lou Brown, the salty manager of the Indians in possibly the greatest baseball movie of all-time, Major League. Words that graced an awesome shirt I had in middle school and ones that have probably been used as an opening for hundreds of mediocre fantasy baseball articles since 1989. Most importantly, these are words that Tyler Glasnow is ignoring on a regular basis.
In 2017 Glasnow threw his curveball 22.7 percent of the time. That number dropped down to just 16.4 last season. Through 4 starts this year Glasnow is snapping off hammers at nearly double that rate, 31.6 percent.
He’s throwing more curveballs, so what? Good question, Fantasy Assembly readers are so inquisitive. From a purely speculative standpoint I would suggest that if Glasnow is throwing his curveball roughly a third of the time and his fastball about two-thirds of the time (65.3%) that allows him to focus nearly all of his time developing those two pitches and finding the control that has eluded him so far. Perhaps this simplification of pitch variation allowed Glasnow to implement changes to his delivery like his modified leg kick which he believes allows him stay back over the rubber longer – keeping his upper and lower halves in-sync.
Having only two reliable pitches for a starter seems like a problem, but as we have seen over the last several seasons starting pitchers are not being tasked with going deep into games on a regular basis. When you only have to go through a lineup twice, probably three times at most based on how the Rays manage their pitching staff, there isn’t as much of a need for a huge arsenal of pitches. If the situation arises where Glasnow needs to give a batter a different look he has a change-up and a slider that he can show.
The most encouraging aspect of this increased reliance on his curveball is that we aren’t seeing diminishing returns in its effectiveness. The whiff rate on Glasnow’s curveball in 2018 was 36.5 percent and so far, this season and its barely dropped to 35.9 percent to this season, despite throwing it almost twice as much. The Rays’ staff and Glasnow have found the equivalent of a glitch in a video game, akin to how Bo Jackson could not be tackled in Tecmo Bowl (another forced 1989 reference). It seems like they are going to exploit hitters with the curveball until they make an adjustment.
Even with big swing and miss potential Glasnow’s curveball isn’t among the most elite breaking balls in baseball. I don’t want to mislead people into thinking this is Mariano Rivera’s cutter or Randy Johnson’s slider. The greatest value in the pitch is how well it compliments Glasnow’s fastball. According to Fangraphs’ Pitch Info Pitch Values/100 numbers, Glasnow’s fastball is worth 3.66 runs above average (his curveball is at 0.5), up from 0.27 last season, even though its average velocity, 96.5 mph, is the same as last season.
All of this has added up to some impressive numbers: 4-0, 1.13 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 1.13 BB/9 and a .205 batting average against. I’ve been highly critical of Tyler Glasnow in the past, but I’ve always held out hope that everything might click for him one day. The early numbers are showing that this could be for real. He has a FIP of 1.98, an xFIP of 3.00, and a SIERA of 3.19. Most importantly, he has thrown 54.5 percent of his pitches in the strike zone – well above the MLB average of 48.7, and a career high.
Is all of this simply the result of a new-found confidence in a curveball? Maybe. Perhaps it’s due to some mechanical change like the abbreviated leg kick that was reported. Whatever the case this is the first time we’ve seen any sort of sustained excellence from Glasnow. It’s not enough to say that he’s a lock as a top 20 starter yet, but if you are in one of the 12 percent of Yahoo! leagues where he is available pick him up. If someone is trying to sell high on him don’t immediately disregard the offer. This looks like more than a hot start.