The Pittsburgh Pirates may be tempted to move Tyler Glasnow to the bullpen if he cannot develop a third pitch. That may actually be a viable option.
Those are four of the best bullpen arms in the game, and Miller in particular showed his value by playing a crucial role in powering the Cleveland Indians to Game Seven of the World Series.
All were former starters at an early point in their career. All struggled in those roles, before their careers were resuscitated after being moved into the bullpen.
The Pittsburgh Pirates may have such a player in their system right now. But would they be best served by moving Tyler Glasnow to the bullpen?
Not Admitting Failure, but Embracing Strengths
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote about this very phenomenon in this ESPN Insider Post (Sub required). In it, he eschews the traditional notion that a solid starting pitcher is worth more than an impact bullpen arm.
Certainly, the record relief contracts signed by Mark Melancon and Aroldis Chapman show that major league clubs are starting to fall in line in re-thinking how they value relief pitchers. Indeed, the game is changing. Reliever usage has risen in each of the last three years across MLB as a whole.
In that light, converting a starting pitcher – perhaps one struggling to develop a third pitch or one who falters late in games – to a relief arm is not the crazy notion that it was five years ago.
For the Pittsburgh Pirates specifically, Glasnow’s inability to develop his changeup may start them towards at least considering how Glasnow might look as a lights-out reliever. With a fastball that can touch 98 to go along with a curveball that has good separation and bite, Glasnow can immediately become a very effective arm.
He could even take on a Miller-like role.
Moving Glasnow to the pen would not be admitting failure on his part or the organization’s. Rather, it would be more about embracing his strengths and utilizing him as a weapon.
No Going Back
However, if the Pittsburgh Pirates were to do that, there would likely be no going back.
In doing so, the club would be giving up on utilizing the second-ranked right handed pitching prospect as a starting pitcher. Their current pipeline of arms is a strong one, with Nick Kingham and Mitch Keller headlining the group. The club could absorb the “loss” of Glasnow in the rotation rather easily, should Kingham and Keller’s projections turn out to be accurate.
Of course, the bullpen move could be a stopgap solution until Glasnow’s other pitches come along. But it’s not that easy. In recent history, the list of players who have went from starter, to reliever, then back to starter with success can be limited to one name: John Smoltz.
Smoltz recorded 144 saves in three years as the Braves’ closer after missing a year to do injury. He then moved back to a starting role and racked up two All Star appearances in the subsequent three years. However, Smoltz was already an accomplished starting pitcher before moving around. By that point he knew his arm and what he could and could not do.
To move Glasnow this early in his development – and yes, he is still developing despite making his MLB debut last season – could prove too drastic of a fork in the road to pull off what Smoltz did. Another example would be the Blue Jays’ path with Roberto Osuna. Osuna was developed as a staring pitcher until the Jays saw him as a relief piece that could put them over the hump.
Two playoff appearances later, and the Blue Jays have now committed to Osuna in their closer role. For his part, Osuna now wants no part of being a starting pitcher
When to Pull the Trigger
The Pittsburgh Pirates will likely give Glasnow an extended chance to show that he can become the starting pitcher that many see him as. By all accounts, Glasnow is doing major work this off-season to develop the changeup. The organization should and will give him every chance to show them he is ready.
What if Glasnow’s control and off-speed issues linger past the season’s opening stanzas and into May? What if Glasnow is still trying to get by with two pitches in June? At what point do the Pittsburgh Pirates move him to the bullpen and allow him to meaningfully contribute to a team that still may yet contend for a playoff spot in 2017?
But, should that day arrive with those circumstances in play, the question instantly becomes a very valid one.
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Image Credit – Bryan Green – Flickr Creative Commons