Prior to July 30th, there wasn’t a huge groundswell to see Tyler Glasnow up in Pittsburgh in September. Sure, there were some pockets of folks here and there that wanted to see the 21-year old, 6′-8″ gigantor take the mound at PNC, but they were a small minority. But July 30th was A.J. Burnett’s third poor start in a row; the next day he would be diagnosed with elbow inflammation and placed on the 15-day DL shortly after that. Now the rumblings grew a little louder.
In an effort to offset the loss of Burnett at the last minute, the Pirates traded for JA Happ from the Seattle Mariners. After Happ’s Pirate debut on Wednesday (4.1 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 K), the calls for Glasnow started to get louder and from more varied corners of the Pirate viewing universe. Before Burnett’s injury, which no one knows if he’ll be able to return from and pitch in the pre-All Star break fashion, the Pirates were envisioning a playoff rotation of Cole-Liriano-Burnett. That would be as good of a 1-2-3 as any team potentially in the playoffs. But now, a rotation of Cole-Liriano and one of Morton/Locke/Happ makes people uneasy.
The thinking is that Tyler Glasnow, at a minimum a consensus Top 20 project on nearly every major national list, would be able to step in to the rotation and provide a third dominating arm in the rotation and potentially in the playoffs. As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to every argument, so let’s take a look at them in regards to Glasnow.
Tyler Glasnow is going to be a stud top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Whether he’s a true #1 ace or a dominant #2 is up for debate and probably splitting hairs, but he’s an impact prospect. His complete minor league career totals are dominating and cause chuckles of disbelief:
352 IP, 207 hits allowed (5.29 H/9), 466 strikeouts (11.91 K/9), 163 walks (4.17 BB/9). Add in a career ERA of 2.04 and a batting average against of a minuscule .169.
Glasnow’s arsenal is a high 90’s fastball that sits around 95-96 in the early innings. He couples that with a killer curve and complements both with an improving changeup. Glasnow, barring injury, will be in Pittsburgh in 2016, so there is a school of thought that he should come up in September and knock the Major League jitters out of his system this year.
Some people have invoked David Price’s September 2008 run with the Rays as a 22-year old. Whether it’s due to hazy memories or better living through chemistry, people think that Price was some sort of dominant piece down the stretch for the Rays. In fact, he pitched just 14 regular season innings in September, with just one start. His other four appearances were in relief, with most in low-leverage situations. He made six appearances in the postseason during the Rays’ march to the World Series, but they were spread over 5.2 innings. His numbers were good, but to think he was a vital cog is incorrect.
Glasnow was grazed by the injury scourge that descended on the Pirates’ farm system this year, as he sprained his ankle while running the bases in early May. He missed over five weeks while rehabbing, which affected not only his bulk innings total, but also the amount of time he was probably predicted to spend at AAA this season. By missing those innings, in general, but also specifically at AA, Glasnow only was promoted to AAA at the start of August.
Those inning totals are important for a couple of reasons. The first is that the Pirates have been very cautious with Glasnow since drafting him in 2011. His inning totals by year are:
- 2012 — 38.1
- 2013 — 111.1
- 2014 — 124.1
- 2015 — 78.1 (currently)
The Pirates would have liked to have raised Glasnow into the 150 IP range this year, as that would put him on pace for a 180 inning campaign in 2016 — a perfectly manageable number between AAA/MLB. But his ankle injury is going to suppress his innings count to right around 100. Perhaps they will send him to the Arizona Fall League in an effort to add on to his total this year. The Pirates also like to see their pitchers spend an adequate amount of time (whether it’s at-bats or innings pitched) at each level before promotion. As a comparison, Gerrit Cole compiled 74 innings at AAA between a 2012 cameo and his 2013 early-season stint and was deemed ready to make the Majors. Glasnow has just 10 innings from his first two starts.
And although no one wants to hear this in the midst of a pennant race, there is a financial component at stake here, too. If Glasnow comes up this year, his service time clock will start. Every day spent on the roster between Game 1 and Game 162 counts towards service time — postseason days do not. So if Glasnow is on the roster in September, he’ll have 30 days of time accrued. Once a player reaches at least 6 years of service time, where a year is defined as 172 service days, that player is eligible for free agency. If Glasnow comes up in 2015, he’ll be eligible for free agency potentially after the 2021 season; if the Pirates call him up part way through 2016, it will be after the 2022 season. There are also Super 2 considerations for arbitration (where the Pirates and Glasnow could potentially go to arbitration four times instead of three, like with Neil Walker) that could affect when the Pirates may or may not call Glasnow up in 2016 if he has already accrued service time in 2015.
As you can see, more words were dedicated to “cons” than “pros” in this article. Although not a true defining argument, it is certainly an indicator that it is not wise for the Pirates to call Tyler Glasnow up in the heat of a playoff chase in 2015.