After two straight seven run games, it’s easy to forget how tantalizing Dinelson Lamet’s first couple of starts truly were as he struck out sixteen batters in ten innings, which included an eight strikeout performance against the reigning World Series Champs.
The struggles that followed shouldn’t have been all that unexpected because most young starters eventually do go through some growing pains as they adjust to major league hitting; however, they shouldn’t skew our opinions of Lamet’s outlook too much. Instead, the real issue at hand is not so much a question of Lamet’s potential but of whether he will benefit more from time to refine his game with the Padres or the Chihuahuas.
On the one hand, Lamet destroyed AAA competition with a 3.23 ERA and an 11.54 K/9, and it won’t hurt the big league club any in the short term if he gets lit up since the Padres aren’t playing for this season anyways. Nevertheless, it is possible that Lamet will get more caught up in trying to be successful than he will in developing, and in the process, wind up with some bad habits. Don’t get me wrong; Lamet should obviously try and be successful, but it’s more important that he competes in a way that’s sustainable long-term.
After all, the number of pitching prospects that dominated in the minors and flamed out in the majors is astronomical. Sometimes it is because the raw stuff isn’t enough, but I think we can say with confidence that this likely won’t be Lamet’s downfall. On the contrary, there is another, more prestigious prospect (although he lost prospect status this season) that provides a sobering warning and example for how Lamet should be managed if the team wants to put him in the best position for future success.
Tyler Glasnow: 2016
During the 2016 season, Tyler Glasnow was viewed as a consensus top fifteen prospect and had lived up to the hype by decimating the minor league competition in a way that even Lamet wasn’t able to do. In twenty starts, Glasnow would possess a sterling 1.87 ERA by striking out 133 batters and limiting opposing offenses to a paltry .173 batting average. So naturally, the Pirates’ pitching difficulties and the unexpected play of Andrew McCutchen had fans calling to see Glasnow in Pittsburgh before the post-season completely slipped out of grasp.
Opportunity arose twice in July, but the results weren’t pretty as Glasnow only made it through three innings before getting bounced in his second start. After some more seasoning in the minors, the Pirates called him back up for relief duty and a couple of starts, and while the relief duty went smoothly, the starts were a completely different story.
Despite having a plus, plus fastball and a plus curveball, it became apparent that those were the only two pitches that Glasnow trusted. He only threw his third pitch, a changeup, a mere eleven times in eleven appearances, and seven of those were in the same start. Furthermore, the changeups he did throw barely resembled a changeup. Take a look at this chart that displays the movement of his changeup and his fastball:
What also might surprise you is that the velocity differential between the changeup and the fastball was on average only 4.6 mph, so his changeup often really was just a bad fastball. As a result, hitters were all over it, leading to Glasnow’s hesitancy to throw it. Thus, Glasnow tried to compensate by painting the corners and varying the speed on his two primary offerings, but it wasn’t enough to keep hitters off balance the second and third time through the order.
Similarly, Lamet owns two plus pitches, a four-seamer and a slider, that has enabled him to overwhelm AAA batters, yet the organization knew they weren’t enough on their own to keep batters of off balance the second or third time they faced off against Lamet in a game. This is why Lamet has been using his changeup more regularly since this spring. In fact, he spoke to A.J. Cassavell about it, saying, “Knowing that I wanted to be a starter, having that third pitch was going to be really beneficial,” Lamet said through a team interpreter… I’ve always had a good changeup. That hasn’t been an issue. There was just a period where I wasn’t confident. I was scared, in a certain sense, to throw it. Now, I have a lot more confidence. That’s the biggest difference, more than the pitch changing itself.”
Confidence can go a long way in helping or hurting a young pitcher; Glasnow’s confidence kept him from throwing the changeup because he knew it wasn’t great and had to watch the damage that was done off of it. Lamet’s changeup, which has allowed a similarly awful 218 wRC+, seemed to shake his confidence in the pitch as he didn’t toss it once in his last start.
It’s just one game, but Lamet needs to continue to throw the changeup regardless of the outcome because the only way he is going to realize the potential he has as a starter is if he can become at least competent with the pitch.
Quite honestly, he’s already flashed more than competence with the pitch at times, but if getting knocked around in the spotlight deters him from leaning on it in future games, then the organization would be best suited by allowing him to continue working on it in the minors.
Tyler Glasnow: 2017
Over this past offseason, Glasnow scrapped his changeup for one with a two-seamer grip, and he continued to add the two-seamer back into the fold so that the two could play off one another. If you look at the movement on Lamet’s pitches below, his changeup is supposed to play off the horizontal movement of the two seamer just as Glasnow’s now does.
It hasn’t exactly worked out for Glasnow this season as he was once again demoted to AAA, but the encouraging aspects of his time in the majors this year are that he continued to toss the changeup even when it was hammered, and he flashed some swing and miss ability with the pitch. Unfortunately, Glasnow still struggled with command of all of his pitches, as well as with figuring out how to best utilize his more diverse repertoire. He even tried moving away from the four-seamer in favor of the two seamer, as his usage chart here indicates.
It ultimately didn’t solve his problems, and he ended up walking too many batters and coughing up too many runs. The Pirates tried to let him work it out in the majors, but it became increasingly clear that he needed more than three months to learn how to integrate the two-seamer and changeup while still relying on his strengths.
Now, Lamet has been tinkering in a different way; he decided not to throw the two-seamer in his third start, and it’s very peculiar because the pitch had only allowed a 56 wRC+. It wasn’t inducing a lot of whiffs or groundballs, but it wasn’t showing that it needed scrapped, especially when the changeup plays off of it. Then, in the fourth game, he brought back the two-seamer but didn’t use the changeup.
To no one’s great surprise, neither attack worked as he was blasted for seven runs in each, so you have wonder why Lamet even decided to move away from the four mix attack that worked reasonably well in his first two starts.
Regardless, perhaps Lamet will be able to adjust in his next few starts or maybe…just maybe…three months just isn’t enough time to truly refine a more diverse arsenal. Either way, the Padres would be wise to take heed of the mess, or at least delay of development, that Glasnow has undergone by keeping him in the majors for too long. Both Glasnow and Lamet have all the tools and talent needed to be successful starting pitchers, but that’s not enough if you don’t have a certain comfort level with how to utilize your repertoire.