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Tyler Glasnow took a step forward in May

May turned out to be a pretty good month for the lanky right-hander

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Though his ultimate role as a major league pitcher is still very much in question, Pittsburgh Pirates RP Tyler Glasnow took considerable strides during the month of May.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 12-15 May record.

In the span of nine games, RP Tyler Glasnow went from a liability at worst and a mystifying hurler at best to a bonafide major league reliever. And one of those nine games was ugly, as he was tagged for six runs over one inning of work back on May 1st.

Selected peripherals from Glasnow’s May performance

If we remove that outing, we are left with just one earned run over 13.2 innings pitched. His .216/.259/.333 triple-slash in those eight appearances is buoyed by a 16:3 strikeout to walk ratio.

Glasnow’s improved control is as good a place as any to start illustrating just how strong he has performed lately. Some will point to a more consistent release point as a catalyst; However, Glasnow’s newfound control might be due to an increase in confidence.

Attack mode engaged

Take a look at Glasnow’s four-seam fastball zone profile from April:

And compare it to the same zone profile (four-seam fastball only) in May:

The picture painted here is of a pitcher who is seemingly more comfortable with his stuff to simply go out and attack hitters. For all of the talk and rhetoric about Glasnow needing to refine his secondary pitches, the fastball is still king for the still-young right hander with a 71.1 percent usage in May.

Simply, Glasnow did an end-around on his fastball control issues by coming into the zone more often. It’s not quite Inception-level heady stuff, but the solution is rather mind-bending.

Perhaps that type of approach is to be expected of a reliever, and that might change should the Pittsburgh Pirates feel that Glasnow’s ultimate destination lies in the starting rotation. But for now, it is refreshing to see Glasnow simply get on the mound and pitch.

For some, maybe it really is that simple.

Getting ahead lets other stuff come out and play.

In the graphic above, we highlighted that Glasnow worked from ahead in the count 36 percent of the time in May, up from 21.2 percent previously.

That’s big, as Glasnow seems to be better suited to flash his secondary pitches when ahead:

Glasnow pitch usage - ahead v behind - 2018

Pitch Ahead Behind
Pitch Ahead Behind
Four-Seam 52.90% 86.20%
Slider 25.30% 0.00%
Curveball 21.80% 13.80%

The slider is still a new pitch for Glasnow — he did not throw a single one in 2017 — and it is clear that he may not yet feel comfortable throwing it to get back into a count. That’s unfortunate, as the pitch carries a 46.7 percent whiff rate to date.

Regardless, the mix that Glasnow employs when ahead in the count is a healthy one. For a pitcher that might need every ounce of confidence-boosting pitch performance as he can get, seeing his secondary pitches start to work — regardless of situation — could do wonders for Glasnow, much in the way that simply attacking the zone worked for his fastball.

It is not a coincidence that Glasnow keeps getting entrusted with incrementally higher leverage situations as he continues to evolve. If the month of May is any indication of what happens when Glasnow begins to put it all together, the Pittsburgh Pirates may have an interesting choice on their hands with their former top prospect sooner rather than later.