Pittsburgh Pirates May See Moving Tyler Glasnow to Bullpen as Viable Option

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.

Zach Britton. Dellin Betances. Wade Davis. Andrew Miller.

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?

That question lies in the lap of the Clint Hurdle, Neal Huntington and Ray Searage conglomerate. It will be a difficult one to answer.

But, should that day arrive with those circumstances in play, the question instantly becomes a very valid one.

Image Credit – Bryan Green – Flickr Creative Commons

Jason Rollison

Jason Rollison has been analyzing baseball and the Pirates in one way or another for 4+ years. Jason's previous stops include rumbunter.com, Pittsburgh Sporting News, Call To The Pen and several print publications. He also covers the State College Spikes for the Centre County Gazette (State College, PA) When it comes to analyzing baseball, he likes to take a middle-of-the-road approach, with one foot on the analytics side of the fence and the other on the old-school side. Having said that, he is a sucker for pitchf/x. Jason has appeared as a phone-in and in-studio guests in numerous outlets, including Trib Live Radio and 93.7 The Fan (CBS Sports Radio)
  • Piraterican21

    Might as well trade him if that’s how they feel.

  • as of today, I really dont’ see this as a real option. If Glasnow’s problems are mostly control, do you really want to put him in to the pen? Yeah he had a not so good MLB debut but this isn’t out of the ordinary even for pitchers that go on to be true ace’s. I give him 2017 to work it out.. if he isn’t performing decently then maybe make a move.

    as Piraterican21 said.. if they are seriously thinking about moving him to the pen, might as well trade him. His value as a top 10 prospect and a starter are probably higher than as a middle relief arm with control issues.

    • Cody

      The one example not really cited above, even more appropriate than Osuna, would be what happened with Chapman and the Reds. Chapman’s problem was as a power pitcher who lacked the control to go deep in games. He developed into a lights-out RP, and at that point his value was too high there to retry the SP route. Control problems are obviously more easily masked in a bullpen role. But if you want to talk about value, his potential in either case should still make him untouchable.

      • Chapman also started his transition to relief before he saw any MLB time and was never really a ‘good’ starter, was pretty much was expected he’d end up in the pen but hoping he could start.

        Another extreme example not given above is Kershaw who also had control problems ended up being an Ace.

        IMO: It’s way too soon to give up on Glasnow as a starter and if the team has they should trade him now to get starter prospect value out of him.

        • Cody

          I agree, just noting that it was Chapman’s success in the bullpen that closed the door on starting more even than his control. If Pirates contend and Glasnow becomes a shutdown 8th or 9th guy, it would be hard to remove him from a role that has become so valuable.

  • dougq

    Randy Johnson….they would have to be idiots to give up on Glasnow, absolute idiots.