After coming over to the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of the Gerrit Cole trade, here is what right-handed pitcher Joe Musgrove has to offer his new club
It was widely reported that the Pittsburgh Pirates would desire an arm of some kind to come back in any potential Gerrit Cole trade. As it turns out, Joe Musgrove is that arm.
The 25 year-old Musgrove has appeared in 49 big league games for the Houston Astros since breaking through in 2016. Here’s a snapshot look at his career to date:
Table courtesy of Baseball Reference
Musgrove was relegated to the Astros bullpen in July of last season. This after Musgrove struggled over 15 starts, with hitters tagging him for a .305/.356/.526 batting line. Musgove found much better results in his 23 relief appearances, with hitters mustering only a .190/244/.321 line.
The stark differences between Musgrove’s time as a starter versus his time as a reliever don’t end there.
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Clearly working as a reliever agreed with Musgrove last season; however Neal Huntington has already indicated that the Pittsburgh Pirates will give him every chance to start the season as a starter. So the question now becomes a simple one.
Can Musgrove develop a third pitch?
Things got much easier for the right-hander once he pared his offerings down to a four-seam/slider combination. He did this while being utilized in a variety of bullpen roles. Pitching anywhere from the fourth inning onward, Musgrove got back to doing what he was known for: a guy who won’t get many punchouts but has excellent control and just get outs.
Ultimately, Musgrove’s viability as a starting pitcher in the major leagues will come down to whether or not he can utilize a third pitch (and maybe even a fourth) effectively. It’s not as if Musgrove completely kicked everything else to the curb in featuring his four-seam and slider, but the change was pretty drastic:
data courtesy of Statcast
A quick digression. Of course, we have to account for some variances in pitch recognition, as Statcast sees his fastball as a cutter at times, whereas other destinations such as Brooks Baseball attribute some of the presumable cutters as sinkers. Adding to that is the fact that Musgrove threw a rather unique one-seam sinker at times in 2016. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll focus on pitches labelled as four-seamers and sliders, while keeping this in the back of our minds.
By percentage, we see that Musgrove’s four-seamer was actually de-emphasized when he moved to the bullpen, while his slider enjoyed a near seven percent jump in usage.here’s why this is important. As suspected, Musgrove featured his slider in two-strike counts as a reliever, and the results were pretty hard to quibble with:
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So, there is a pretty strong case for the Pittsburgh Pirates to keep Musgrove in the bullpen and assume an Andrew Miller-like role. Sounds great.
Except, there is an argument to be made — along with the declaration made by management — that Pittsburgh has more use for a capable mid-to-backend starting pitcher rather than another bullpen arm. Indeed, if the club does decide to go with Tyler Glasnow in the bullpen, the effect would be the same, assuming Glasnow can also pare down his offerings to a degree that is even an approximation of Miller’s. The answer to this question might just lie in who looks better in Bradenton.
It comes down to the Pirates having a wealth of possibilities, which is fitting considering that the industry sees this trade as an accumulation of pieces rather than landing a true, headlining talent.
Expect the Pittsburgh Pirates to look to develop Musgrove’s curveball and resurrect his changeup during Spring Training.
It is just as plausible to expect the club to realize what they might have with him in the bullpen, and act accordingly.
Photo credit – Keith Allison