In the month of May, Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Joe Musgrove has struggled to generate swings and misses and this is an issue.
During the 2018 season, Joe Musgrove had a breakout season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Looking like the gem of the Gerrit Cole trade, Musgrove had his finest MLB season in his debut season in black and gold. He also quickly became a fan favorite.
In 19 starts Musgrove fired 115 1/3 innings, both of which were new career high. His 4.06 ERA tied a career low, while his 3.59 FIP was also a career low. Musgrove also posted a career best 2.2 fWAR. His performance combined with his fiery passion and leadership quickly made Musgrove a fan favorite in Pittsburgh.
11 appearances (10 starts) into his sophomore season in the Burgh Big Joe is off to an overall strong start. His 1.1 fWAR puts him on pace to be a 4+ fWAR pitcher this season and his 3.08 FIP as a starter is good for 10th best in the National League.
However, in recent starts he has started to run into an issue. This issue is a lack of whiffs. In five starts in the month of May Musgrove owns a 8.25 ERA and a 3.87 FIP, and a big reason for his struggles is a failure to generate enough swings and misses.
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In March/April, Musgrove owned a 23.0% strikeout rate. His swinging strike rate was 12.1% and 35.9% of the pitches he threw outside of the strike zone were swung at. In May, the results have not been nearly as good.
Musgrove’s strikeout rate has dropped to 12.7% this month. His swinging strike rate has dropped to just 8.4%, and the amount of pitches he throws outside of the strike zone that were swung at dropped to 33.9%.
Musgrove’s struggles to put batters away was in full display during his most recent start. In the 4th inning of this past Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Musgrove was facing Chris Taylor with two outs and no one on base. With the game tied, Taylor battled a 10 pitch at bat before singling off Musgrove.
Opposing pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu would foul off multiple two strike pitches from Musgrove before hitting a run-scoring double off the right-center field wall. This double gave the Dodgers a lead they would never relinquish, and came after Musgrove fail to put away the team’s eighth hitter and/or their pitcher.
In 5 innings pitched against the Dodgers, Musgrove only generated 7 swings and misses. That’s right, 7. It goes without saying that only generating 7 swings and misses during a start is not good enough.
So, what has caused Musgrove’s issues? Well, it is tough to say. However, his pitch selection has changed between March/April and May.
During March/April Msugrove threw his fastball 48.9% of the time and his slider at a 26.0% clip. In May, his fastball usage rose to 50.4% while his slider usage dropped to 21.9%. With the slider being his best pitch, Musgrove using his slider less could be part of the issue.
Opposing batters slug just .197 off of his slider to go with a 36.9% whiff rate. His fastball yields a .492 slugging percentage and just an 11.5% whiff rate. Being more fastball heavy does not appear to be a recipe for success for Musgrove.
Starting with his start against the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday night, Musgrove needs to start generating more swings and misses again. His best option to do so would appear to be to lean on his slider more. With Trevor Williams and Jameson Taillon both on the injured list, as well as Chris Archer struggling, Musgrove’s importance to this team rises even more. So, hopefully, he can get back on track again starting tonight.