Is Joe Musgrove Hitting A Wall?

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

In his first full season as a starting pitcher at the MLB level, righty Joe Musgrove may be hitting a wall for the Pittsburgh Pirates

The prized jewel of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ offseason trade of Gerrit Cole was right-handed starting pitcher Joe Musgrove. In his first full MLB season Musgrove has shown why the Pirates thought so highly of him.

After starting the season on the disabled list, Musgrove has 6.1 innings per start to go with a 3.80 ERA, 3.85 FIP, and a 1.5 fWAR in 16 starts. While he has struggled with the home runs ball allowing 1.02 HR/9, his 19.5% strikeout rate and 5.1% walk rate are both quite healthy.

While Musgrove has certainly proven that he will be a key member of the Pirate rotation moving forward, he has struggled in his last two starts. This raises a question – is he hitting a wall?

Seeing a young player in their first MLB season hit a wall in late August/early September is not uncommon. After all, their body simply is not used to the wear and tear of a six month season. Even though Musgrove started the season on the disabled list when you factor in his minor league rehab starts he has only missed a handful of starts this season. Also, combined between the MLB and MiLB level, Musgrove has 114 2/3 innings this season which puts him on pace to shatter his previous pro ball high of 119 in 2016.

The discrepancy in results for Musgrove between his first 14 starts and his last two certainly raise red flags, the biggest of which has been a drastic spike in hard contact allowed.

First 14 StartsLast 2 Starts
Hard Contact Rate32.5%58.1%

After being right around league average in hard contact allowed in his first 14 starts, this rate has jumped nearly 26% in his last two starts. This has led to an extreme increase in home runs allowed, but his 30.8% HR/FB rate during these two starts isn’t exactly sustainable, either.

Another factor in Musgrove potentially hitting a wall is his workload from last season. Musgrove pitched in 116 1/3 innings between Triple-A and the Majors last season. This included both starting and working out of the bullpen for the Astros.

Musgrove would add an additional six games in the postseason. This postseason run saw him pitched into late October for the eventual World Champion Astros. It is not uncommon to see a pitcher who pitches a career high in innings, or close to it, one season only to top it the following season run into a late season wall.

To be honest, it is probably too soon to determine if Musgrove is hitting a wall or not. Consecutive bad starts may just be a minor rut, and the real test will be what he does in his upcoming starts. But if he continues to struggle, odds are, it is due more to hitting a wall than anything else.

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Is Joe Musgrove hitting a late season wall? He very well might be. Whether or he is, odds are, we will see the Pirates skip a start or two of his in September in an effort to preserve his arm as best they can for 2019 and beyond.