Pittsburgh Pirates: Making a Case to Trade Joe Musgrove This Offseason

(Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Joe Musgrove has been part of their rotation the past three seasons, but with their current situation, it might be more benefical to trade him.

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Joe Musgrove as part of the Gerrit Cole trade back in the 2017-2018 offseason. He’s since established himself as a solid starting pitcher since arriving in Pittsburgh.

But Musgrove is controlled through just 2022, or his age 29 season. By then, the Bucs should start seeing the arrivals of some of their best prospects like Liover Peguero, Travis Swaggerty, Tahnaj Thomas, and Mason Martin to join a core that should already see Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds and Mitch Keller have already established themselves. Though extending Musgrove isn’t out of the question, I think they could get more value if they instead traded him over this offseason.

In Musgrove’s first season, he posted a solid 4.06 ERA, 3.56 FIP and 1.18 WHIP across 115.1 innings of work. Musgrove showed excellent control, walking just 4.7% of the batters he faced, and put up a solid 20.6%  strikeout rate. The most impressive part of his season is that he had a HR/9 of just 0.94.

ERA predictors loved Musgrove, especially deserved run average. DRA pinned him at just 3.43. DRA is one of, if not the most accurate ERA estimator as it takes into account your typical factors like hitter friendliness of the park, defense, and batted ball results, but other factors like the difficulty of the opponent, temperature, and pitch framing. He also posted a solid 3.92 xFIP and 3.93 SIERA.

The following year, Musgrove pitched in 170.1 innings. He saw his ERA rise to 4.44, but that’s about the only big negative about Musgrove’s 2019 season. The right hander allowed walks at a rate of just 5.7%, and saw his strikeout percentage jump to 21.9%. Though his HR/9 was 1.1, that was still well above the league average. DRA still loved Musgrove with a 3.59 mark, but his xFIP was 4.31 and his SIERA was 4.31. He still did have a solid 3.82 FIP, and overall, it was a really solid season.

So far in 2020, I would say Musgrove has gotten pretty unlucky. He has been injured, and has pitched just 26.2 innings. On the surface, Musgrgove has a 4.68 ERA and a 10.6% walk rate to go with a 1.38 HR/9. But Musgrove has been plagued by horrible batted ball luck.

For one, his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP is .333, compared to just .297 in the two years prior. His xBA according to Baseball Savant is just .219 compared to the actual mark of .240. This is because Musgrove is inducing a lot more soft contact. Opponents are mustering an exit velocity of just 85.6 MPH, which is in the top 91st percentile in all of baseball. In comparison, his exit velocity in the two seasons prior was 88.5 MPH.

After posting a 38.7% hard hit rate in 2019, that has since decreased to just 32.5% and in the top 74th percentile of all pitchers. According to FanGraphs, his soft contact rate is 22.5%, which is a huge uptick from years previous (19.4%). Despite his home run rate, his ground ball rate has increased to a career high mark of 46.3%. The issue has been giving up too many line drives, at a 23.8% rate. In 2018-2019, that mark was 20.3%. Still, the right hander has a 3.40 xFIP, 3.75 SIERA and and 3.89 DRA.

Musgrove has shown a great amount of control of his pitches in the past, and is now inducing a lot of soft contact. This is a good sign that he is trending in the right direction, and helps his value in the long run.

Musgrove is currently a solid middle of the rotation starting pitcher, even for a good team, which, obviously, the Pittsburgh Pirates are not. While that doesn’t seem like much on paper, many teams would want a consistent pitcher who has the stuff to be better. Musgrove’s slider and curveball both have more than 2600 RPM, and his fastball sits in the top 79th percentile in baseball. Combined with his ERA estimators, and Musgrove has some really underrated value.

There will always be buyers for starting pitching. Pretty much a big possibility the entirety of the NL East could be in the market for starting pitching. The Nationals, Braves and Mets all could use another starter. Even the Marlins could be in the buying mood if they think their 2020 isn’t a fluke and it’s time to go for it.

Two other East teams, the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees could both show interest in Musgrove as the Yanks could lose James Paxton to free agency, and the Blue Jays are ready to take another step to competition. In fact, it was reported following the August 31st trade deadline that the Pittbsurgh Pirates nearly traded Musgrove to the Blue Jays. Musgrove’s former team, the Houston Astros and one of their West rivals, the Oakland Athletics, both could be in the market for another pitcher.

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Right now, the Pittsburgh Pirates would be better off trading Musgrove. Unless the Pirates and the right hander can meet on a team friendly contract, then the prospects that Musgrove would bring back would be more beneficial. Trading Musgrove could help the Pirates’ find a catching prospect, or a power hitting first baseman with a plus hit tool, two things that would be more than just welcomed for the Pirates.

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