The Pirates became relevant again during the last three seasons thanks in large part to the rotation triumvirate of Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett. Liriano is struggling through his worst season as a Pirate, while Burnett retired last offseason. If the Pirates are to get back in the playoff hunt this year, or if they will be in the mix in future seasons, it will likely be around the pitching trio of Cole, Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow.
Glasnow made his major league debut last Thursday. The Pirates sent him back to Triple A after the start, but the belief is that he’ll be back in Pittsburgh shortly after the All-Star break. Of all the pitchers who have broken through to the majors this season, Glasnow enjoyed the most dominant stretches at the Triple A level. That, in part, made his debut one of the most anticipated of the season.
Glasnow drew the Cardinals for the first start of his career, and after walking Greg Garcia to start the game—an inauspicious beginning for a guy with Glasnow’s minor league numbers—he set down nine batters in a row to take a no-hitter into the fourth. Aledmys Diaz led off that inning with a triple, but after getting Matt Holliday to ground out to third and sending down Piscotty on strikes, Glasnow was one out away from pitching around the Diaz three-bagger. He didn’t score on another hit, but rather on the first wild pitch of Glasnow’s career.
Ultimately, the rookie allowed four runs on three hits in 5 1/3 innings, striking out five while walking two. He exited the game with two runners on base, and Arquimedes Caminero promptly gave up a three-run homer to Stephen Piscotty, so just two of the runs he surrendered came with him on the mound. The strikeout-to-walk comparison was a welcome sight for a pitcher who issued 52 free passes in 96 innings with Triple A Indianapolis before getting the call.
Glasnow threw just two types of pitches in his debut, a four-seam fastball and curveball—the two pitches that will be responsible for turning him into a frontline starter, assuming he can reach that level. Right off the bat, we watched Glasnow against an established major league hitter with a man in scoring position. Matt Holliday came to the plate in the first inning with one out and a man on second base. Glasnow would ultimately get him to ground out to short, but we saw some of what makes him special, and at least one way in which he could get into trouble, in this plate appearance.
Glasnow fell behind 2–0 after missing in with two fastballs. Here’s his first pitch to Holliday.
The third pitch of the showdown is where Glasnow starts to get right. Put yourself in Holliday’s head for a second. You’ve got a rookie making his major league debut at Busch Stadium. Despite all the stuff in the world, he was one of the wildest pitchers at Triple A this season. He walked the first batter of the game, and has missed badly with consecutive fastballs. Sitting in the driver’s seat at 2–0, there’s no reason to swing at anything but a fastball, right? Judging by the way Holliday takes the 2–0 curveball from Glasnow—notice the slight buckle in his front knee—that’s exactly what he was thinking. This didn’t need to be a perfect curve to get Glasnow back in the at-bat. It simply needed to be a strike.
Glasnow’s entire repertoire is open to him again, and he goes back to the fastball. This is nothing more than strength against strength, and Glasnow’s 94 mph heater wins the day. Now with the count 2–2, essentially in his favor, Glasnow goes back to the curve. It’s likely a bit higher than he wants it, but it’s on the outer-third, and he gets Holliday out in front enough to make him roll over and hit a harmless grounder to short.
That’s an impressive showing by a rookie in his first experience with a hitter like Holliday.
In the fourth inning, Glasnow allowed a leadoff triple to Diaz on an 0–2 pitch. The next two at-bats were two of the most important of the game for Glasnow. He had a man on third and no one out with the two most dangerous hitters in Mike Matheny’s lineup on that day—Holliday and Piscotty—looming. The 22-year-old Glasnow showed why, in these two at-bats, he can turn into a legitimate ace in the next few seasons.
His first two pitches to Holliday were fastballs. One was on the outside corner, which Holliday fouled off. The other was on the inside corner, which Holliday took. Both were spotted perfectly, and got Glasnow way ahead at 0-2. Here’s the first.
On 0–2 he again nailed his spot, missing just out of the zone high with a fastball. He then came back with a curve on 1–2 that missed its spot badly, but got by simply on the strength of how good it is.
This is part of the reason why stuff is so important. This curve was executed poorly, but the pitch is so sharp, and Glasnow has Holliday so well set up, that it doesn’t really matter that he missed his spot by the width of the plate. He gets a groundball to third for the first out of the inning.
Glasnow isn’t out of the woods yet. Now he has to deal with Piscotty. He gets ahead of him, as well, with a chest-high fastball that the hitter can’t catch up to for strike one. Glasnow doubled up on the pitch missing up and in, a pitch we’ll take a look at.
It’s important for any pitcher to own the inside corner, and it’s encouraging to see a rookie in his debut not cede that part of the plate to the hitter. At this point, we all know he’s throwing the curve next. It isn’t Glasnow’s best, but it’s effective thanks to the first two pitches of the at-bat. Glasnow didn’t need it to be particularly sharp, so long as he got it on the outer-third. The pitcher is back in the driver’s seat.
From there, a good battle ensued, with Piscotty laying off a curveball, fouling another one off to stay alive, and then laying off a fastball to push the count to 3–2. That’s when Glasnow broke off one of his best pitches of the day.
Diaz would eventually score on a wild pitch, but the fact that Glasnow was able to get past Holliday and Piscotty without allowing the leadoff triple to cross home plate was the most substantive event we saw from him in his debut. That’s the stuff aces are made of. Glasnow obviously has a long way to go before he reaches that level, but in a two-batter sample, he showed the baseball world why his debut was one of 2016’s most anticipated.
Pitchers to watch this week
Bud Norris, Dodgers
Norris has made a couple of solid starts with the Dodgers, totaling three earned runs and 13 strikeouts in 11 innings. He quietly put together a strong June in Atlanta before the trade and now has a 2.23 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 42 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings in his last seven starts. Norris will start the Dodgers first game in the second half, taking on the Diamondbacks in Arizona on Friday. He’s still widely available in all fantasy formats and is well worth a shot anywhere he’s still on the wire.
Jose Quintana, White Sox
Quintana’s season took a turn for the worse in June, starting with an outing against the Tigers in which he surrendered five runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. Over his final seven starts of the first half, he had a 4.93 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 45 2/3 innings. Save for two of those starts, however, Quintana mostly resembled the pitcher he was the first two months of the season. In two of his three non-quality starts, however, he was undone by one bad inning. A week off might be just what the doctor ordered. He’ll next take the ball on Friday against the Angels in Los Angeles.
Steven Wright, Red Sox
Baseball is a weird sport, proved most recently by Wright being the Red Sox best pitcher in the first half. The 31-year-old, who made all of 11 starts as a major leaguer before this season, totaled an AL-best 2.68 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 1.21 WHIP and 94 strikeouts in 114 innings, earning his first trip to the All-Star Game. The knuckleballer was a bit fortunate in the first half, evidenced in part by his FIP being nearly a full run higher than his ERA. Even if there’s some regression built into his second half projections, Wright’s going to be a mainstay in all fantasy formats. His first start after the break is scheduled for Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
Kyle Hendricks, Cubs
The best ERA in the Cubs rotation? That belongs to Hendricks. The best WHIP? That’s on the back of Hendricks’s card, as well. Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester will represent the Cubs in the All-Star Game, but Hendricks was arguably the Cubs most consistent pitcher in the first half. The 26-year-old has a 2.61 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 86 strikeouts in 98 2/3 innings thus far. Arrieta still bested him in fWAR, but Hendricks was every bit as valuable for the NL Central leaders. He’ll be the first starter for the Cubs out of the break, taking on the Rangers on Friday.
Chris Tillman, Orioles
Tillman put together a decent first half, amassing a 3.55 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 1.23 WHIP and 93 strikeouts in 106 1/3 innings. That’s about the best the Orioles and his fantasy owners could have hoped for, and that really doesn’t make him more than a backend starter in 12- or 14-team leagues. Another couple months like that, and Tillman will have turned a tidy profit for anyone who drafted and kept him all season. His first start of the second half is Saturday against the Rays.
Jose De Leon, Dodgers
De Leon missed the first month of the season because of an ankle injury. He went back to the DL wit Triple A Oklahoma City after one start because of a shoulder issue. He returned in early June, but at that point he had thrown so few innings since the start of spring training that the Dodgers needed to ease him along. Now fully stretched out, he looks prime to earn a promotion to the majors in the second half.
De Leon, 23 years old, universally seen as a top-30 prospect by the three major prospect ratings services entering this season, just made his longest outing of the year. The righty went 6 1/3 innings in a no-decision against Colorado Springs (Brewers), allowing two runs on four hits, striking out nine and walking three. Just as importantly, he ran his pitch count up to 97, the fifth-straight start in which he was able to work deeper into the game. In 29 2/3 innings at Oklahoma City, De Leon has a 3.03 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 1.08 WHIP and 44 strikeouts against 11 walks. He topped out at 114 1/3 innings between High A Rancho Cucamonga and Double A Tulsa last season, and it’s unlikely the Dodgers would push him much beyond that this season. The innings restriction might not hurt him in terms of fantasy value, but he won’t be of much use if the Dodgers don’t put him in the rotation. With Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu healthy, there likely isn’t a spot in the rotation for De Leon. He’ll likely be on the fantasy radar in 2017, but it’s unlikely he’ll have much value this year.
GIF of the week
Stephen Strasburg made his return from a back injury two Sundays ago, tossing 6 2/3 shutout innings against the Reds. He followed that up dominating the Mets, striking out nine in seven innings in a Washington victory that moved the 27-year-old righty to 12-0. One of his nine victims in that game was Neil Walker.