I’ve seen plenty of tweets recently from St. Louis Cardinals fans interested in acquiring Tyler Glasnow so after a breif hiatus, I feel that it’s time to pick up my offseason targets series and cover a pitcher with a ton of question marks but also a ton of upside.
For starters, it’s easy to see where the trade speculation comes from. The Rays are a notoriously chea...uh...frugal franchise and Tyler Glasnow is in the last year of a deal that will pay him $25 million in 2024. It’s probably unlikely that the Rays will re-sign him, considering his age and difficulty staying healthy, and it’s probably unlikely that they want to pay him $25 million next season.
That makes him a prime trade candidate.
If you’re interested in reading about what Glasnow’s trade value might be, then I recommend reading Gabe’s piece from the other week. He used surplus value to throw out a few value comparisons and potential trades.
This piece won’t get into that. Rather, I want to look at Glasnow as a player and see if he’s someone the Cardinals should be interested in acquiring. Before reading, though, you should already know my answer. It depends. But what does it depend on? That’s something I’ll get into too.
As always, let’s start with Glasnow’s Fangraphs page.
Uhhh I’m pretty sure Miles Mikolas threw more innings this year than Glasnow has in his entire career. I kid but this is actually a major concern. What for a normal pitcher would be a measly total of 120 innings pitched is actually a single-season high for Glasnow which gives a true picture of just how fragile he is on the mound.
In fact, the guy has eclipsed 100 innings just twice in an 8 year career and in one of those seasons he wasn’t even a full-time starter.
Even last year, which can maybe be considered his healthiest year, Glasnow was coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2022, delayed the start of his season with an oblique injury, and then missed games later in the season with back spasms.
He’s not exactly dependable.
An extensive injury history has kept Glasnow, an objectively really good pitcher, to a single season career high of just 3.2 fWAR and a total of just under 10 fWAR in an 8 year career. The numbers don’t match the talent and that’s entirely because of injuries.
So really, Glasnow’s Fangraphs page gives us a clear picture as to what he is - a top of the rotation hurler when healthy.
What is there to say? I mean, the guy is just electric.
His fastball sat 96.4 mph last year but he paired that with 99th percentile extension (a crazy 7.5 feet!), which gave his fastball a perceived velocity of 98.5 mph. So, basically, he’s a starter who averages 98-99 mph on his fastball.
The pitch also generated 16.9 inches of induced vertical break, an above average amount but not extremely so, which is more than enough to make the pitch an effective bat-missing offering when paired with it’s velocity.
But that’s not the only thing worth mentioning about the pitch’s shape. Glasnow also cuts his fastball, and he cuts it so much that it stays almost perfectly straight from the time it leaves his hand (the pitch averages just 1 inch of arm side run).
So not only is the pitch overpowering, but it’s also atypical in it’s shape, and it’s that combination that makes it so good.
There’s one caveat to that, though. The pitch lost a tick in 2023, dropping from 97.4 mph on average to 96.4 mph on average. That velocity isn’t weighed down by a slow start (which you might expect from someone who had an injury at the end of Spring Training) or a blip in August when he had back spasms. Rather, his velocity stayed relatively consistent from month to month.
That’s a concern to me.
I should specify that it’s more of a long term concern than a short term one as declining velocity tends to be a sign of general decline for a pitcher. That affects my view of Glasnow in 2024 but not as much as it would it we were talking about a long term contract and not one with just a single year left on it.
It could also just be a blip. Glasnow had Tommy John surgery in 2022 and maybe just needed a season to find his old velocity. That’s certainly a possibility, but, regardless, it’s a concern.
Even with the slightly diminished velocity, the pitch was still effective in 2023, generating a 24.7% whiff rate and .326 wOBA, but it wasn’t nearly as effective as it was in 2021 when it allowed a .287 wOBA and missed bats at a 27.8% clip.
Still, Glasnow’s cut and ride fastball is a plus offering or better even after losing a tick.
The really devastating part of Glasnow’s arsenal isn’t his fastball, but rather his breaking balls. He throws both a slider and a curveball with the slider getting more usage but with the curveball being nearly unhittable.
And I’m not being hyperbolic about the curveball. The pitch allowed a batting average of just .095 this year and had a whiff rate above 50% (51.6%). Like I said, unhittable.
That’s not just a one-year thing either. In 2021 the pitch was even better, generating a 56.1% whiff rate and allowing just a .088 wOBA.
The pitch has pretty much played that well every year of Glasnow’s career. In fact, since 2019, Glasnow’s first full season with the Rays, the righty has thrown the pitch 1,204 times while allowing just a .136 wOBA. The pitch is Elite with a capital “E”.
He could probably stand to give it more than the 21.3% usage that it saw in 2023, but, either way, it’s not only the most effective pitch in his arsenal, it’s one of the most effective pitches in all of baseball.
The breaking ball that Glasnow throws more is his slider, which he supposedly introduced into his arsenal in 2021 even though Baseball Savant has record of it in 2018. I would guess that those 2018 records are simply mislabeled curveballs, but who knows.
The point is that the slider immediately became Glasnow’s go-to breaking pitch as he threw it 32.3% of the time in it’s first season of use. That year, it missed bats at a 46.3% clip while allowing a .277 wOBA.
The pitch had somewhat similar, if diminished, results in 2023, earning a .292 wOBA and 38.2% whiff rate. Notably, the velocity of the offering increased from 87.5 mph in it’s first year of use to a whopping 90.1 mph in 2023.
That made it the 9th hardest slider, on average, in the majors this year.
It’s a good pitch that really completes his power arsenal even if it’s not his best breaking ball.
Glasnow may only have a 3 pitch mix since he effectively dropped his changeup after being traded to the Rays but it’s a really good mix and it’s top of the rotation stuff with a borderline elite fastball, an elite curveball, and a solid slider.
One other thing that I didn’t mention is that Glasnow also gets a ton of ground balls, especially considering his profile. Typically power pitchers like Glasnow tend to get a lot of strikeouts but also give up a good number of fly balls but that’s not the case with Glasnow as he finished with an 88th percentile ground ball rate in 2023 (51.2%).
That ground ball rate was a career high but he does have a solid career average of 47.2%. For someone who both misses bats and doesn’t walk a lot of hitters, this really makes Glasnow a complete package.
That’s really an underrated part of Glasnow’s game. For me, when I think of Glasnow I tend to think of the electric bat-missing arsenal but I didn’t give him enough credit as a ground ball getter prior to writing this piece.
I’ve written a lot of words at this point but I can sum them up easily - Glasnow is a surefire top of the rotation arm with a ton of risk.
So, where does that leave us? Even though Glasnow is a top of the rotation arm, that doesn’t mean that he can be counted on to actually be one. To put it another way, he’s an ace when he’s on the mound but that isn’t often enough.
We can look at Glasnow’s lack of dependability in a couple of ways. For starters, it’s worth mentioning that it does bring his value down. A lot. Let’s say Glasnow had stayed healthy and thrown 180 innings like a standard healthy arm. He would have been on pace for 4.8 fWAR.
That kind of a pitcher looks a lot different in trade talks than the real Glasnow.
So while Glasnow’s injury history makes him a risky bet, it does significantly lower the cost of acquiring him which may not put him past the Cardinals “puke point”. That gives the team the chance to acquire a top of the rotation talent without surrendering the typical package necessary to acquire a top of the rotation arm.
Gabe threw out names like Chase Davis or Alec Burleson as the return for the Rays and I tend to agree with him, though it is hard to get a handle on exactly what Glasnow’s value is. I don’t think it’s super likely that they will be able to get someone like Tommy Edman for a guy with that long of an injury history, tons of uncertainty, and a $25 million salary. Even for a guy as good as Glasnow.
The equation changes if the Rays are willing to eat some of Glasnow’s contract but that doesn’t feel like a Rays move. If they want to trade the full value of the contract, the righty simply has too many question marks for his value to line up with his talent. That’s a good thing for the Cardinals.
On the other hand, there’s still quite a bit of risk for the team acquiring Glasnow. Is it worth giving up an MLB player or a near-MLB ready prospect with years of control for a player who may throw fewer than 100 innings next year and miss a good chunk of the season? Perhaps not. Then there’s the velocity dip to be concerned about too.
So, if the Cardinals are relying on him to be the big, top of the rotation talent for the rotation, then they’re expecting too much.
Glasnow also doesn’t pair well with a Blake Snell signing, as Gabe mentioned in his article, because there’s simply too much uncertainty with that duo.
So, if the Cardinals are going to acquire Glasnow, I want to see them go get innings security with their other arms. But that can’t be all they do. If the Cardinals don’t also add higher end talent to the rotation then the rotation may not be good enough when Glasnow gets hurt.
Even though Glasnow is a high-end pitcher, if the Cardinals do acquire him, he can’t be the only high end pitcher they get.
Basically, I see Glasnow as a luxury. For as good as he is, he shouldn’t change the way the Cardinals think about this offseason. He shouldn’t be the best arm they get and if they do get him as the #2, then the need for a quality #3 starter becomes all the more real.
But, if the Cardinals do get Glasnow and if Glasnow somehow manages to stay healthy for a full season, or at least be healthy for the playoff race and the postseason (if the team qualifies) then the team could have all the makings of a really good rotation in 2024.
Thanks for reading, VEB. Have a great Tuesday.