While Gerrit Cole’s outstanding 2018 performance cannot be denied, it appears that the Pittsburgh Pirates received a strong middle of the rotation innings eater in that trade with Joe Musgrove.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates made the decision last January to trade Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros, there was a good chance that the team may come to regret it if Cole pitched well in 2018. Not only is Cole having a good season, he is arguably having the best season of his young career. So far he has posted a WAR of 5.6 this season and is striking out 12.40 batter per nine innings, both career highs for the righty. With an ERA, FIP and xFIP all under three this season, it would be unhealthy to continue to think how the 2018 season could have turned out if they had held on to Cole and he performed even close to this in black and gold.
But that trade is in the rearview mirror and it does not good to dwell on the past, as some say. While the players who came over from Houston, Colin Moran and Michael Feliz, have struggled or been downright disappointing at the Major League level, it appears that in Joe Musgrove, the team now has a strong middle of the rotation pitcher who can cover more than his fair share of innings.
While Musgrove’s 2018 WAR of 1.7 does fall short of Cole’s total for this season, he does have a lot going for him that makes him a promising option for the Pittsburgh rotation for the next few years. Like Cole, Musgrove’s ERA, FIP and xFIP are all fairly similar at 3.75, 3.77 and 3.96 respectively. Because these numbers are all so close, it shows that Musgrove has been pitching close to his true talent level this season. He’s striking out 7.66 batters per nine innings which is slightly lower than what he the past two years. He has dropped his walks per nine innings to 1.83 down from 2.30 last year. So he might not be Gerrit Cole, but there is a lot to like about Joe Musgrove.
Another aspect to Musgrove’s game that is extremely appealing is that he has been a workhorse. Sure, he has missed time due to injuries, but when he is on the mound he can usually be counted on to make it fairly deep into the game. If Musgrove is on the mound, chances are that the bullpen is going to have an easy night and probably only need to pitch a few innings.
So far this season, Musgrove has started 17 games for the Pirates. In eight of those starts, Musgrove pitched at least seven innings. If dropped to six innings, Musgrove has gone that far in 12 of his starts. For someone who has bounced between the bullpen and the rotation in 2017 for the Astros, it is impressive that Musgrove has been such a stable member of the rotation this season.
Musgrove also brings something to the team that, at least in this author’s opinion, has been missing since the days of A.J. Burnett taking the mound for the Pirates. At the end of May, in a game against the Chicago Cubs, Anthony Rizzo slid into the legs of Elias Diaz at home plate. While the Pirates protested and called for interference, the umpires decided that the play was legal, only for Major League Baseball to decide that it was indeed interference a few days later. The Pirates did not respond in that game, but two days later Musgrove decided to go in hard at second with a slide into Javier Baez. Baez, and the Cubs, took issue with the play and the benches cleared. While tempers cooled and no fists were thrown, Musgrove clearly wanted to send a message to the Cubs. At the same time, he sent a message to his teammates and to the city of Pittsburgh. Not only is Musgrove a gamer when he takes the mound, but he supports his teammates and will not stand for other teams trying to take advantage of the team whose name is written across his chest.
With Jameson Taillon and the recently acquired Chris Archer (and not to mention Trevor Williams who is on an incredible streak at the moment), the Pirates look to have a decent rotation in place for the next few years. But Musgrove is the type of pitcher that any team would like to have, a no nonsense player who can be counted on to give his manager and teammates six or seven innings each time out. The trade of Cole left a hole in the rotation, but he was going to be a free agent and would leave the Pirates anyway. By moving him, the Pirates now have a good replacement for him, at a fraction of the cost, and more importantly, for years to come.