Rays missed out on Nick Pivetta when the Red Sox beat them to a deal
The Red Sox acquired Pivetta along with pitching prospect Connor Seabold in a trade deadline deal that sent Brandon Workman to the Philadelphia Phillies. Pivetta won both of his starts, allowing only two earned runs over 10 innings for a sparkling 1.80 ERA and he struck out 13 batters for a career-high 11.7 K/9. It’s a tiny sample size but his encouraging performances could be a sign of things to come.
Pivetta was once a coveted prospect in the Phillies organization with the type of stuff that scouts raved about but he never managed to put it together. He was struggling at the time of the trade, posting a 15.88 ERA in three relief appearances, and he finished his tenure in Philadelphia with a 19-30 record and 5.50 ERA over parts of fours seasons.
Sometimes a change of scenery is all a player needs. The Red Sox are banking on a fresh start helping Pivetta turn his career around and they aren’t the only team who believes in his upside. According to Peter Gammons of The Athletic, the Tampa Bay Rays tried hard to acquire Pivetta from the Phillies before Boston beat them to it.
"“We think he can be another Glasnow,” a Rays official stated in regards to Pivetta’s upside."
That’s high praise coming from a Tampa Bay organization that is entrusting Tyler Glasnow to be one of the leaders of their rotation this season. Is the comparison warranted?
There are some similarities beyond that they are both right-handed pitchers. Glasnow was a top prospect who stumbled through parts of three seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates but began to figure things out on the mound after joining the Rays mid-way through the 2018 season. In his breakout 2019 campaign, Glasnow posted a 1.78 ERA and 11.3 K/9 in 12 starts. Pivetta’s strong September showcase could signal that he’s on a similar path as a late-bloomer who thrives with a new team.
Both pitchers rely heavily on a four-seam fastball as their primary pitch. Glasnow has averaged 96.9 mph with his fastball over the last two years and ranked in the 94th percentile last season, per Baseball Savant. Pivetta can’t match that velocity, ranging between 92-94 mph.
Glasnow has an elite curveball that ranked in the 92nd percentile in spin rate last year and was nearly untouchable, holding hitters to a .120 batting average. Pivetta’s curve was only in the 65th percentile and wasn’t nearly as effective, allowing a .400 batting average to opposing hitters last season. The results were better the previous year so this is probably small sample noise. Pivetta found more success with a slider, generating a 46.2 Whiff%, so he has another breaking ball to turn to if the curve isn’t sharp enough.
Both pitchers also have a seldom-used changeup that they utilize almost exclusively against left-handed hitters. The pitch has been effective but they need to pick their spots carefully with it.
While the data clearly favors Glasnow, that wasn’t the case during his early years in Pittsburgh when his fastball velocity hovered around 94 mph and the spin rate on his curve was slightly lower than Pivetta has produced in recent seasons.
In Glasnow’s last full season with the Pirates in 2017, he produced a 15.5 Whiff% with his fastball and 33.3 Whiff% with his curve. By 2019, those figures jumped to 22.4% with the fastball and 43.9% with the curve. Those percentages stood at 24.1 and 52.8 respectively last season.
The Rays clearly tweaked something with Glasnow’s mechanics that increased his velocity and spin rate, allowing him to generate more swings and misses. Glasnow’s 14.0 swinging strike percentage ranked 15th in the majors among pitchers with 50+ innings last season.
Tampa Bay also convinced him to abandon the two-seam sinking fastball that he unsuccessfully worked into his arsenal during his time in Pittsburgh. Glasnow is essentially a three-pitch pitcher these days but it’s working for him.
Chaim Bloom, who was running the Rays front office when they made the trade for Glasnow in 2018, must believe the Red Sox can do the same to unlock Pivetta’s potential.
We saw Pivetta flash some of that potential late last season. Two starts isn’t nearly enough to get a proper read on his progress but it will be interesting to see how Pivetta develops under the guidance of a new coaching staff. He may not reach the level of Tampa Bay’s emerging ace but if Pivetta can make similar strides in his development then he has the ability to cement a role for himself in Boston’s rotation.