Pittsburgh Pirates: Breaking Down Joe Musgrove’s 2020 Season

Even though he made just eight starts, Joe Musgrove appeared to be on his way to having a career year in 2020. Let’s examine what drove his success with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

2020 was a strange season for everyone with the Pittsburgh Pirates and throughout Major League Baseball. Playing only 60 games during a global virus pandemic, it was unlike anything we had ever seen before.

One player for the Pittsburgh Pirates who had a strange season of sorts was starting pitcher Joe Musgrove. Now, let’s dive into the 2020 season that was for Big Joe, while taking a look at what the future may hold for him.

Prior to the start of the season, Musgrove was a pitcher who looked prime to take a step forward in 2020. Then, he came out and struggled mightily in his first three starts before going on the injured list.

While on the IL, he was nearly traded to the Toronto Blue Jays prior to the August 31st trade deadline. After he returned from the IL, Musgrove put together arguably the best stretch of his MLB career, showing why he appeared primed to have a big 2020 season.

All in all this season Musgrove pitched 39.2 innings in eight starts. He posted a 3.86 ERA, 3.42 FIP and a 33.1% strikeout rate, all of which were new career bests for Msugrove. While it was a tick higher than the past two seasons, his 3.64 DRA was still strong and his 1.0 fWAR put him on pace to nbe a 4+ fWAR player.

One of the biggest change Musgrove made to help find success in 2020 was throwing his four-seamer fastball less. Without a doubt, this came from the direction of new Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Oscar Marin.

Musgrove went from throwing his four-seamer 37.6% of the time in 2019 to 28.4% of the time in 2020. As a result, the pitch’s whiff rate rose from 15.0% to 17.2%. The pitch was also in the 81st percentile in baseball in fastball spin rate.

2020 was also a great season for Musgrove’s slider. Late in the 2019 season Mugrove started to throw his slider more and it led to a lot of success, this was a driving force behind the high expectations for Musgrove entering 2020.

Opposing batters slugged just .289 off of Musgrove’s slider in 2020. The pitch had a whopping 50.6% whiff rate, and sat in the 73rd percentile in baseball in slider spin rate. The pitch was filthy with 41.8 inches of vertical drop, and 5.7 inches of horizontal movement.

Another big change for Musgrove, as was the case for multiple pitchers with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020, was an increase in curveball usage. Musgrove’s curveball usage rose by 10% from 2019, and opposing batters collected just one hit off the pitch this past season. That lone hit was a single. Additionally, the pitch had a 53.2% whiff rate which was the highest of any of Musgrove’s pitches.

Big Joe also did a great job limiting hard contact. Opposing batters had a 85.1 MPH exit velocity off his pitches, which ranked in the 93rd percentile in baseball, while his 32.3% hard hit rate was in the 79th percentile in baseball. His opposing barrel rate of 5.4% was the second lowest of his career, and ranked in the 70th percentile in baseball.

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It remains to be seen what the future will hold for Musgrove. Between the swirling trade rumors and the fact he was nearly traded in August, it seems very possible that he will be traded this off-season.

That said, it was also reported last off-season that the Pittsburgh Pirates were trying to work out a contract extension with Musgrove. So while it is not a certainty as to where Msugrove will pitch in 2021, it does appear to be a safe bet to say that wherever he is he will pitch well.