Tyler Glasnow and the trouble with tall baseball players

In his Rays debut Wednesday, Tyler Glasnow  pitched three innings, allowing one run on two hits. He struck out five and walked one. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
In his Rays debut Wednesday, Tyler Glasnow pitched three innings, allowing one run on two hits. He struck out five and walked one. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published August 6 2018
Updated August 6 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Tyler Glasnow, the pitcher who came over to the Rays from the Pirates last week along with outfield prospect Austin Meadows in the Chris Archer trade, features a 97 mph heater that makes hitters sweat and a 12-to-6 curveball that makes their knees buckle.

You would think that's all people would ever want to talk about.

But it's not.

"Hey, tall guy, do you play basketball?"

He gets that a lot.

" 'No, I play baseball,' " he says he tells them. "Or depending on where I'm at, I'll just be like, 'No, I do nothing,' if I'm not trying to get into the whole baseball thing."

As it turns out, there are some drawbacks to being 6 feet, 8 inches tall.

It's understandable why strangers would guess Glasnow plays basketball. Giants in baseball are surprisingly rare.

I searched several baseball databases to find out just how rare. The count of players who stood at least 6 feet, 8 inches: 45.

Forty-five. In all of baseball history. From Johnny Gee, born in 1915, to Glasnow, born in 1993.

Coincidentally, the Rays have rostered five of the 45: Mark Hendrickson (2004-06), Jeff Niemann (2008-12), Dane De La Rosa (2011-12), Adam Russell (2011) and Glasnow.

Success for baseball's giants has been hard to come by. Only four have posted more than 20 wins above replacement in their career. The best one? Randy Johnson. He had a pretty good career. But the 6-foot-10 Hall of Famer is the exception.

It makes sense why hitters might struggle. They have a larger strike zone to cover. But why pitchers?

Their margin for error is incredibly small. If one part of their delivery is out of whack, they'll have trouble locating their pitches consistently.

Take it from Niemann, who at 6 feet 9, 285 pounds was one of the largest pitchers ever to toe the rubber.

"Tall pitchers are naturally going to have a longer path to release, and any flaw in that path is expanded," he said. "So that's what makes the basic idea of repeating quality pitches, pitching, more difficult for bigger guys because it's simply harder to get bigger, heavier pieces to work together."

As great as Glasnow's stuff is, he has struggled with his command since his callup in July 2016. While with the Pirates, he struck out 9.7 batters per nine innings but walked 5.7.

The Rays, though, like Glasnow's potential, and they have the man who can help — pitching coach Kyle Snyder, who also is 6-8.

"That was the first thing I thought of when I got traded over here," Glasnow, 24, said. "My agent texted me, a couple of people were like, 'Man, your pitching coach is 6-8, so that'll be great.' Even talking to him, I'm super-excited. He's one of the more knowledgeable pitching coaches I've ever had."

Snyder, who spent the previous three seasons as pitching coach for Triple-A Durham, had a chance to watch Glasnow when the Pirates' International League affiliate played the Bulls.

"I saw him in Indianapolis the past couple of years, in 2016 and 2017," Snyder said. "I was intrigued by him. He pitched really, really well against us. I guess to some degree I was intrigued by (the trade) because we're similar sizes, and there's a lot that comes with that and understanding, I suppose, somewhat of the platform it provides me is recognizing that it's not all that easy."

Piecing together a repeatable delivery will take time and patience, Snyder said.

"It takes reps at certain levels," he said. "It takes reps at the big-league level. It takes reps at the upper levels of the minor leagues, where (Glasnow has) obviously dominated. I think it requires a little bit more patience of the individual, of the organization and of the staff, recognizing that there is more to kind of hone in and organize."

Within the past year, Glasnow has made a significant change to his delivery. When the Pirates optioned him to Triple-A Indianapolis in June 2017, he abandoned the windup that pitchers typically use when the bases are empty. He started working exclusively from the stretch.

"I think for me it simplifies movements," Glasnow said. "I'm a pretty big momentum pitcher. The windup was just extra movement that I didn't really need. I can still get that momentum in the stretch."

The sample size is small, but the results are trending in the right direction, even if there's room for improvement. In 59 innings this season, Glasnow is walking 5.3 batters per nine innings, down from 6.4 last season. In his Rays debut Wednesday, against the Angels at Tropicana Field, he struck out five and walked one in three innings.

For now, Glasnow plans on continuing to work exclusively from the stretch.

"He knows there's some things, some consistency that will always be an issue for a 6-foot-8 pitcher," manager Kevin Cash said. "If this simplifies something, we're good with it. If he wants to go back to the windup, we're fine with that, too.

"We just want to get him to where he's staying in one lane, keeping the ball over the plate, giving himself the chance to get some early swings, and control the count."

Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.