Looking At New Pittsburgh Pirates Pitcher Joe Musgrove

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31: Joe Musgrove
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31: Joe Musgrove /

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Joe Musgrove from the Houston Astros over the weekend for Gerrit Cole.  What is the look and upside of Musgrove moving forward for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

Right handed pitcher Joe Musgrove last season pitched in 38 games, with his first 15 coming as starts.  He posted a 4.77 ERA (113 ERA-), 4.38 FIP (100 FIP-), and 5.76 DRA (122.5 DRA-) in 109.1 innings, making him a below average pitcher.  He struck out 21.2 percent of hitters (league average is 21.6) and walked just 6.1 percent (league average is 8.5).  The control is there, seen by his called strike probability of 51.37 percent (fifth best among pitchers with 100 or more innings) but his command has not, having a called strikes above average of -1.12 percent (118th among pitchers with 100 or more innings).

In 2017, Joe Musgrove was much better in relief than as a starter, posting a 1.44 ERA and 2.68 FIP out of the pen compared to a 6.12 ERA and 5.07 FIP as a starter.  He struck out 19.6 percent of hitters and walked 6.7 percent of hitters in the rotation, and struck out 25.8 percent and walked just 4.2 percent coming out of the pen.  Musgrove also had a 51.9 percent groundball rate out of the pen, as he got just 42.6 percent of batted balls being on the ground as a starter.

Musgrove is a six pitch pitcher, having a fourseam, sinker, cutter, changeup, curveball, and slider.  The Pirates will likely look to cut out some of these pitches, especially if he is a starter moving forward.  Below is a look at the movement of his two breaking balls:

Musgrove having two breaking balls is intriguing, Chad Kuhl has the same, and he uses the curve mainly against left-handed hitters, throwing the pitch 15.57 percent of the time against them and just 3.42 percent of the time against right-handed hitters.  The best of his pitches is the slider, a third of Musgrove’s strikeouts came via the slider, and opponents hit .188 with a .274 slugging (0.086 ISO) in 117 at bats last season.  With that pitch being his only real strong one leads to believe he might be best used out of the bullpen, like he was last year in the second half.

Musgrove also features three forms of fastballs, a sinker, fourseam, and cutter.  His fourseam averages 93.84 miles per hour, his sinker 92.22 miles per hour, and his cutter 90.40 miles per hour.  He uses his fourseam primarily, throwing it 38.83 percent, and he threw his sinker 9.98 percent and cutter 5.81 percent of the time last season.  After moving to the bullpen on July 22, Musgrove threw his fourseam 43.03 percent of the time, sinker 7.27 percent, and cutter 10.41 percent.  The pitches do have clear movement differences below:

His fourseam and sinker break more arm side, his sinker even more so, and his cutter breaks glove side, which matches what they should do, the break isn’t as much as you want though.

The problem is his sinker ranked 173rd in horizontal movement and 97th  in whiffs per swing among 188 right-handed pitchers with 100 sinkers thrown

.  The good news, however, is his 73 percent of batted balls being groundballs off the sinker was fifth best, however his whiff/swing was just 97th.  In 2017, Musgrove’s fourseam had a -6.3 run value, sinker 0.1 run value, and cutter -0.1 run value.  So while he has three different fastballs to choose from in his repertoire, neither one has been particularly strong in the past.  Last season, Musgrove’s curve had a run value of -0.7, but his slider was strong with 8.4 runs.

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The slider being by far his best pitch is fine, but with the other five not having any value in 2017, that’s a rather large concern, though run values aren’t predictive.  Combined with his lack of success while in the starting rotation, he might be just a five starter at best.  Musgrove has great control and throws strikes, but his ability to command the ball is more questionable.  To fully get the best of Musgrove’s ability, the Pirates may need to keep him in the role he had in the Astros bullpen, where nine of his 23 outings (39 percent) came in multi inning appearances.  While having a relief weapon of that nature is nice, such as his former team the Houston Astros had in Chris Devenski, trading your best starting pitcher for that type of player as a co-headliner is an incredibly questionable move.

*Numbers from Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Brooks Baseball, and Baseball Savant