Pittsburgh Pirates: Joe Musgrove’s Velocity Has Disappeared

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 11: Joe Musgrove #59 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws a pitch during the third inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 11, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 11: Joe Musgrove #59 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws a pitch during the third inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 11, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Joe Musgrove has seen a decline in his velocity this season compared to last year on all of his pitches.

Entering last night’s game against the Cardinals, Joe Musgrove entered with a 2.63 ERA, and after giving up eight earned in three plus innings, he has seen his ERA blossom to 4.20.  This is now back-to-back short outings for the right-hander, who last time out against the Oakland Athletics went 2.2 innings allowing seven runs (five earned).

Musgrove is striking out 20.1 percent of batters he’s faced, similar to last season when he struck out 20.6 percent of hitters.  A season ago he also posted a 4.06 ERA with a 3.59 FIP, indicating he pitched better than the raw numbers based on the three true outcomes.  This year his FIP sits at a cool 2.99.  His deserved run average, or DRA, is a mixed model that takes other factors into account, and last season Musgrove’s DRA was 3.43 (DRA is on the RA9 scale), and before his start last night his DRA was 3.23.

Earlier this season, Alex Stumpf over at The Point of Pittsburgh, looked at how Musgrove has revamped his pitch selection and began throwing the slider more.  I previously thought that Musgrove would benefit by doing so and took a crack at looking at pitchers who threw both a cutter and slider.  The early returns on Musgrove throwing the slider over the cutter were encouraging, but there’s a new problem; Joe Musgrove is throwing the ball in 2019 with less velocity than in 2018.

Using data from baseball savant before his start last night, here’s a look at the distribution of Musgrove’s velocity on each pitch over the last two seasons:

There is some overlap, but the bulk of Musgrove’s pitches have shifted to the left, he’s lost velocity and isn’t hitting what he did a season ago.  This is concerning and it could be for two reasons:

  1. Musgrove is just losing velocity
  2. Musgrove is pitching through some sort of injury

Number one might be more of a concern than number two.  Musgrove, the center piece in the Gerrit Cole trade a season ago, is just 26 years-old.  If he is already losing two to two and a half miles per hour on his pitches now, what will his late 20s bring?  We know the Pirates plan on this years crop of players increasing payroll as they enter arbitration next season, despite the salary coming off the books in Corey Dickerson and Francisco Cervelli, and their development of pitchers hasn’t been great in recent years.

If Musgrove is already losing velocity with no other fact, where do the Pirates go to in arbitration?  That’s no longer a player you can really count on to age that well, even in his late 20s.  He could still fill a serviceable back end of the rotation spot, but the Pirates are going to need more from him to compete, not in just 2019, but during his arbitration years.

The odds of him just losing two miles per hour on his pitches leads to the fear of number two; Musgrove is pitching through some sort of injury.  So far this year the Pirates starting staff has seen Jordan Lyles start the year off on the Injured List, with Chris Archer and Jameson now joining him.  Losing Musgrove would be a blow, leaving only Lyons and Trevor Williams to be the only starters from (essentially) Opening Day in the rotation.

Taillon went on the Injured List with a right elbow flexor strain, something that’s bothered him all season,

"“He said his forearm had been bothering him since Spring Training, but he was able to manage the pain until his start in Texas on Wednesday. He said his curveball, his best pitch, began to irritate his throwing arm. He shook off curveball signs late in that outing and wound up giving up home runs on the fastballs he threw instead.”"

Despite this injury, there was never really a change in how hard Taillon was throwing, just down a couple tenths on average:

Taillon didn’t show anything in the velocity data to indicate an injury, but Musgrove being two miles per hour down signals that something isn’t right.  Now this is pure speculation on my part, Musgrove could have just lost velocity, which is a major concern as well.  But if he is hurt, the right-hander needs to shut it down.

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The last two starts for Musgrove have been rough, and on the year his velocity is down on all his pitches by an average of two miles per hour.  Whether this indicates he’s injured or he’s just lost some velocity as a 26-year-old should be a concern.  The Pirates rotation and pitching staff in general have seen their injury and performance problems so for to start off 2018, Musgrove not throwing as hard can be added to the list.