Command issues continue to be a problem for Tyler Glasnow. Is 2017 already a make or break year for his development as a starter?

Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates could not wait until Tyler Glasnow finally got the call and would have a spot in the rotation, and that finally happened during the 2016 season. But the optimism that fans had for Glasnow and his ability to add another strong arm to the rotation was quickly diminished as he struggled at the big league level. Glasnow enters 2017 with his role within the organization unknown due to his own lack of progress and the competition from other starters vying for a rotation spot.

As spring training rolls on, here are a few storylines to consider in 2017 for Tyler Glasnow.

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Where does he start the season?

Last season Glasnow logged 23.1 innings with the Pirates, and struggled at times. While he did show his strikeout ability with 24 last season, he also walked 13 batters. 13 free passes in 23.1 innings is not a good ratio by any means and he’ll need to bring that down to find success at the major league level.

Because of his struggles in spring training (he was blasted for six runs in just two and a third innings against the Dominican Republic on March 8th) and last year along with the fact that the Pirates have other viable candidates for the back end of the rotation, Glasnow almost assuredly will begin the season with Indianapolis. His start on March 13th against Atlanta probably sealed his fate: two and two third innings and he gave up five runs (all earned) on six hits. He struck out one and only walked one, but he did get called for a balk as well.

Drew Hutchison probably has the edge on the last rotation spot. But one has to consider that Steven Brault is probably ahead of Glasnow at this point, since he has been more successful at getting hitters out.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Glasnow’s chances of making it to Pittsburgh this summer. He is talented enough that he could easily figure it out, plus no team uses just five starters during the season. Someone is bound to get injured and Glasnow could find himself in the rotation when/if that happens.

Is the bullpen an option?

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs recently wrote a fascinating piece on ESPN Insider about when teams cut bait with their best starting pitching prospects and put them into the bullpen, where they get much better value. We recently took a look at how that principle applies to Glasnow. Are the Pirates ready to consider such a move as an option?

If the team iscontent with the makeup of their rotation but still want to see what Tyler Glasnow has to offer, the team could decide to deploy him from the bullpen. Glasnow made seven appearances for the Pirates last season and three of those were in a relief role. The sample size is incredibly small, but Glasnow did find some success out of the bullpen. In seven innings, Glasnow allowed just two runs (both surrenders on September 11th vs Cincinnati) and three walks to go along with eight strikeouts.

Three walks issued in seven innings is too many and is not a recipe for success at the major league level. However, perhaps Glasnow is the type of pitcher who fans will just have to deal with when it comes to command issues. At this point the team still envisions Glasnow as someone who could reach his potential and be an impact arm in the rotation. But at some point they may have to consider a move to the bullpen if he cannot lock down a rotation spot.

Projection time!

Fangraphs has projections on each player’s page, with number forecasted for the next season by Steamer and ZiPS. Glasnow is an interesting player to project because of his limited time at the big league level and due to his rather disappointing debut and undeniable potential.

Steamer sees Glasnow starting 23 games for the Pirates, while ZiPS goes further with a projection of 27. These numbers seem overly optimistic for the right hander, mainly because of his struggles with command and because of the number of starters ahead of him. If Glasnow does not win a starting role out of spring training, it’s hard to see a way that he’ll start anywhere near what the projections expect from him.

In terms of K/9, because see Glasnow besting the 9.26 he racked up in 2016. Steamer has him at 10.00 while ZiPs has his mark at 10.74. For BB/9, Glasnow’s was 5.01 last season. Steamer sees his rate dropping to 4.75 and ZiPS has it moving in the wrong direction to 5.08.

Tyler Glasnow was a 0.1 WAR player (according to Fangraphs and their calculations) in his seven games last season and the projections for 2017 are much better than that. Steamer (1.9) and ZiPS (1.8) are remarkably close in their projections, but just like issue with the projections for games started, it’s hard to see Glasnow reaching these numbers since his playing time in Pittsburgh may be limited.

Career Track

Tyler Glasnow’s 2016 debut was not what fans or the team was hoping for, and because of this his career track is somewhat fuzzy. The team will have no problem rounding out a rotation when spring training breaks and Glasnow’s struggles should land him on the Indianapolis roster to start the season. He’ll be back in Pittsburgh at some point, either because he impresses management or because one of the starters got injured. But because of his rocky spring and lack of success with the team last year, he has some work to do if he’ll ever a top of the rotation guy. The talent is there, the question is can he put it all together? 2017 could be a key year in his development.


Ethan Obstarczyk

Ethan is a lifelong Pirates fan who resides in the east end of Pittsburgh. When not talking about, writing about or watching baseball, he also enjoys watching football and hockey along with movies and listening to some of his favorite bands. He can also be found on Instagram (ethanobstarczyk) and Untappd (Ethan_O).