Q&A: Tom Glavine, Hall of Fame Pitcher

Tom Glavine is going into the Hall of Fame for a reason. The long-time Atlanta Braves lefthander was a great pitcher. He won over 300 games and was an All-Star 10 times. A pair of Cy Young awards adorn his mantle.

Paradoxically, some of the numbers Glavine put up over his 22 seasons are atypical of the elite. One reason is that his stuff was anything but electric. Glavine didn’t overpower hitters. Not that he needed to. A master of nuance, he consistently induced outs with impeccable command.

Glavine talked about the secrets to his success, including the subtle adjustments he made to his approach, late last week.

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Glavine on outperforming his peripherals: “I’m not a huge stat guy. I’ve always been a believer that if you took stats out of the game, you’d still know who the good players are, just by watching. When you start talking about guys who are Hall of Fame caliber, by and large, most of them probably performed better than they thought they could, or that a lot of people thought they could. That’s why they were able to have the careers they did. A common theme among them was they weren’t content; they were always looking to get better.

“For me, it was never about what I did last year, or what people were saying about me. It was ‘What can I do better than I did last year?’ and ‘How good can I be?’ That’s probably true for a lot of great players. They’re driven by something internal that’s hard to explain but gets them to a place they wouldn’t otherwise be. They outperform what people would realistically expect out of them.”

On the role defense played:
“It played a huge role. Being a contact guy… believe me, it was nice to turn around and have Otis Nixon in center field, or Andruw Jones in center field — guys like that who could go get the ball. It was also nice to have Gold-Glove-type infielders behind me who I knew were going to make plays.

“That was one of the transitions I made from early in my career. I started getting better when I realized I could be pitching to contact and trusting the guys behind me. When those guys make plays, it becomes a lot easier to be aggressive and have that attitude of pitching to contact. It’s tougher to do when they’re making errors behind you. Inevitably, that plays on your mind. Fortunately, I had great defense behind me.

“In Atlanta, defense played a huge part in how we pitched. If we pitched the way we wanted to, and located the way we wanted to, our guys were going to be in position to make plays for us. Every now and then, they’d pick us up when we made a mistake.”

On his style and evolution as a pitcher: “I don’t think I could have [pitched differently]. Given my velocity… my style evolved based on what I was good at doing. That was sinkers and changeups, as well as throwing away and locating. I don’t think I could have been nearly as successful had I done things differently.

“I did change a little bit from time to time. In given years, I might have used a breaking ball a little more, or tried to make one of my breaking balls more of a weapon than it was in previous years. Later on, when they went to the QuesTec system, the strike zone became more of a north-and-south than an east-and-west. I had to learn how to pitch inside more, which wasn’t an easy thing to do. Early in my career, if I pitched inside 10 percent of the time… my last three years, there were times it was almost 50/50. That was a big adjustment for me.”

On working away: “[Leo Mazzone’s] theory certainly played into it. That was his thing. When he took over as pitching coach, it was all about commanding your fastball and commanding the down-and-away strike. Once he explained it, and once we started talking to hitters about how hard that down-and-away pitch is to hit from a mechanical standpoint, we bought into it. It became the foundation of what we did. The focal point of almost all of our game plans was to do that, and it was successful.”

On his repertoire: “I was basically a four-pitch guy. I threw a fastball, a changeup, a curveball and a slider. I threw both a two- and a four-seam fastball, and would even do that with my changeup — I’d throw four-seamers sometimes and two-seamers sometimes. You can have built-in variations on pitches, and that’s something I did. I also messed around with a cutter, later in my career. It was one of those things where I’d go into a year trying to make all of my pitches into big weapons, but over the course of time, one or two of them would eliminate themselves.

“[Throwing two different changeups] was mostly based upon how I felt throwing my primary changeup. My primary changeup was a two-seamer. If I got to a point where I was struggling with it a little bit, for whatever reason, I would throw a four-seamer. I’d often have a better feel for that, and once I had the better feel mechanically — I was doing everything right — then I would switch back to my two-seamer. It was a correction thing more than anything else.

“When I threw changeups inside to right-handed hitters, I would sometimes go with the four-seamer. But even then, if my two-seamer was working, it was what I predominantly threw. My fastballs were mostly two-seamers. Generally speaking, whenever I was throwing in to a righty, it would be a four-seam fastball, but everything else was a two-seamer.”

On the importance of feel: “That was a big part of pitching for me. Ultimately, it’s what helped me take off. When I started feeling how to make my pitches, feeling my mechanics, feeling what was going right and what was going wrong… once I got to the point where I developed feel, then I could start making adjustments from hitter to hitter, or from pitch to pitch. That’s when I became the pitcher I was for most of my career.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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