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A Good Comp, Bad Comp And A Sad Story For Glasnow And Mercer

Glasgow, Richard and Mercer. Photos courtesy of PPG and MLB.

The holy trinity of sabermetrics websites are Fangraphs, Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus. If you’re on this site you’re probably aware of them.

Some of the bells and whistles of the sites are premium add-ons that cost money. I’ve always been too cheap to spend money on anything other than my Baseball America subscription and my SABR membership so I’ve never been so inclined. Recently though I broke down and decided to play around with the feature on Baseball Reference called the Play Index. This was partially due to the fact that Ben Lindbergh from BR constantly pimps it on his Effectively Wild podcast and he seems like a fine American.

The Play Index is a way to search and compare anything statistical throughout the history of baseball. You could search for how many times a batter hit a homerun and struck out on May 5th in the National League between 1909 and 1961. Anything. I had the two perfect searches I wanted to do and fired away.

Could Jordy Mercer go from a tall SS to a power hitting 3B?

In my life I’ve been a 5’8″ 190lb high school linebacker as well as a 5’8″ 155lb runner. While at those different weights I felt pretty different. In high school I was strong and worked summers delivering appliances and installing furnaces. In recent years I’ve felt quick and annoy the local old timers’ basketball games because I don’t stop moving.

Pittsburghers should know this by now, but in college Alejandro Villeneuva was a 6’9″ 250lb wide receiver at West Point. He then did tours in Afghanistan, won a Bronze Star and is now a 6’9″ 330lb left tackle for the Steelers. His pre-Steeler career as a college skilled position player and later as an Army Ranger kept him lithe, but his frame allowed him to be big.

Jordy Mercer’s frame is big as well. That was always the knock on Mercer and currently the knock on Pirate prospect Cole Tucker: “too tall to stay at shortstop?” Well Mercer has answer that question as he enters his 4th season as the Pirates’ starter. Now with several shortstop prospects on the way and Mercer seemingly wanting to stay in Pittsburgh for his whole career my question is: could he beef up and be a 25 HR hitting 3B? So I take this question to the Play Index. How many tall starting shortstops have transitioned to 3B and succeeded?

The results told me a story I wasn’t expecting. Other than the obvious A-Rod, who might have bulked up by non-legal methods, there wasn’t really a single shortstop that transitioned to the hot corner and succeeded. Now there is the former SS Ian Desmond who transitioned to outfield with the Rangers last year and is supposedly being tried at 1B this season with the Rockies. I’m anxious to see if Desmond bulks up and becomes a plus glove slugger at 1B.

So the answer to my question is that there was no precedence for a tall starting shortstop to leave the position. Sorry Jordy, history says it looks like it’s shortstop, utility infielder or back to Oklahoma. On to question number two for the Play Index.

Who is the good comp for Tyler Glasnow moving forward?

I watched Tyler Glasnow pitch a couple times in Altoona and went down to the 1B bullpen area to watch him warm up. He’s so tall and long limbed. He’s unlike any pitcher we’ve ever scouted before. I think the professional scouts are full of Isaly’s bologna when that act like know what Glasnow is going to do. There have been SO few really tall pitchers that I think we can claim SSS (small sample size) and try not know what to expect.

Just to set the record straight, Glasnow is 6’8″. He’s also been recently noted for maximizing his long frame and having incredible extension on his pitches. You could conceivably say that he pitches like he’s 6’9″ or 6’10″… as if we know what that is like due to SSS.

From 1961-2016 there have been 41 pitchers 6’8″ or taller who have pitched a combined 209 seasons. Now since LHP’s are a totally different animal (and Randy Johnson pitched 22 of those 209), we’ll talk about the 160 seasons pitched by RHP’s greater than or equal to 6’8″.

The Play Index is great because you can gather data and then sort it by many attributes. Since I wanted to find a good comp for Glasnow, I selected to sort those 160 seasons by Strikeouts since a pitcher like Chris Young wouldn’t be a good comp for Glasnow due to his approach.

I’m not quite as old as Kevin Creagh (Easy now — KC) so I don’t remember this JP Richard fella, but he’s all over the 160 seasons and he’s a high strikeout guy. I dig further into him:

Richard shares a lot of similarities with where Glasnow seems to be and where he could go. Note his 26 year old season in 1976, he led the league in BB’s but also allowed the least hits per 9 innings. His strikeout rates were similar to a Chris Young type early in his career, but it clicked in his 28 year old season and he became a star for his 28-30 seasons. This could happen with Glasnow, too, if the situation is right and the Pirates are patient. Also note the #13 pitcher up above, Dellin Betances. That could be an option too… Betances had 90 innings and 130K out of the pen in 2014 and has two 3.5+ WAR seasons to his credit.

Back to Richard… what happened to him? He was becoming a star in as the in the late 70s and then disappeared. Wikipedia states that “On July 30, 1980, Richard suffered a stroke and collapsed while playing a game of catch before an Astros game, and was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to remove a life-threatening blood clot in his neck. His condition brought a sudden end to his major league career at the age of 30.” If you read more about it, Richard had complained about numbness and all the warning signs, but it went undiagnosed.

Take this opportunity to watch Richard in the 1980 All-Star game and dream that Glasnow will be there some day.


About Michael Bradley (52 Articles)
Michael is a Pirates contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Michael is former submarine officer and Naval Academy grad. He now runs a small consulting firm and does veteran related job fairs. He is a SABR member and regularly attends Altoona Curve games to scout the Pirate prospects.
Contact: Twitter

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