Joe Musgrove seems to be on the right path if he wants to be a cult Pittsburgh sports personality la Phil Kessel or JuJu. On the mound, he ?s firing BBs and picking up wins against division opponents. Off the field, he ?s buying ice cream and steaks for minor leaguers. On the basepaths, he ?s going in hard at second to try to break up double plays. Was that slide dirty? Eh, it may have tip-toed over the line, but hey, as Joe Maddon might say, if you can ?t anticipate a slide like that, don ?t play the position. You might get plantar fasciitis.
Musgrove has found early success with his new club by doing things the Pirate way: throwing a TON of fastballs. No pitching staff in baseball throws a higher percentage of fastballs than the Pirates. Few staffs throw it less than his former team, the Astros. The Pirates ? fastball-heavy pitching mentality is nothing new, but it is drawing more heat this year than season ?s past. That Gerrit guy is a big reason why. The league is moving away from heaters– especially two-seamers and sinkers– but the Pirates are doubling down, for better or worse.
Cole always had the potential to be elite, but with the exception of 2015, he was mostly just a step above average. I drew parallels between Cole and Chad Kuhl in April about how gun chasing might be hurting Kuhl the same way it did Cole and Charlie Morton. If you want a more recent example, I don ?t think it ?s a surprise that Jameson Taillon broke out of a month long slump when he started throwing his (brand new) slider as often as his four-seamer.
But now there ?s Joe Musgrove: the anti-Gerrit Cole. Cole may have been squandered because he was a breaking ball pitcher on a fastball team, but Musgrove was a fastball pitcher on a breaking ball team. It ?s somewhat fitting that the two were traded for one another. They are now both in a better system for their skill sets.
Musgrove struggled as a starter for the Astros, but came through in the clutch down the stretch as a reliever. Pitch selection may have been the reason why. Musgrove has three different types of fastballs: a four-seamer, a sinker (or a two-seamer, if you prefer) and a cutter. As a starter with the Astros in 2017, Musgrove threw those three pitches a combined 52% of the time. When he moved to the bullpen, he upped the usage to 57%. In his two starts as a Pirate, he ?s thrown some variation of heat 70% of the time.
But it ?s not just his volume of heaters, but his location. He ?s been able to demonstrate in his two starts as a Buc that he can throw all three of his fastballs in the four different quadrants of the zone. He basically has 12 different looks with his fastball.
Chart time! Here ?s his four-seam pitch chart this year:
Musgrove has put his four-seamer just about everywhere after just two starts. There are a few over the heart of the plate, but plenty are right on the black.
Here ?s where his sinkers have gone:
Again, there ?s a clump belt-high, but a lot is on the edge or low. That ?s where a good sinker should go.
And finally, the cutter:
The cutter runs a little to Musgrove ?s glove side (as expected), but he ?s been able to throw it inside to righties every once in awhile, too. Mix that in with a slider that runs away from right-handers, and he could be murder.
That slider/cutter combo could be deadly. He only used that sequence in an at-bat 15 times to right-handers last year. Out of the 303 sliders he threw to righties in 2017, he set up less than 5% with a cutter. Over 17% of his sliders against righties this season have come right after a cutter (4 out of 23).
Sure, the results from that sequence haven ?t been mind-boggling so far (flyout, ball four, foul, ball), but the slider was already Musgrove ?s best pitch last year. Being allowed to use a natural pairing like a cutter can only make it better. If batters just saw a ball ride away from them a little bit the pitch before, then the amount of break a slider has can create some foolish swings.
While we ?re on the subject of pitch sequencing, let ?s talk about his changeup. If the slider is the pitch Musgrove needs to get righties out, he needs his change for lefties.
Musgrove has a curveball in his repertoire that has good spin and movement, but he has not thrown it yet as a Pirate, opting to throw his changeup more. That may be surprising considering batters hit .378 and slugged .649 against the pitch last year, but it ?s been effective so far (21.4% whiff rate with only one hit against it). He ?s also sequencing it with heat more (56% of the time he ?s set it up with a fastball compared to 45.6% last year), but he ?s also been willing to throw it back to back, especially to southpaws. He doesn’t need these two pitches to be great. He just needs them to compliment his heat.
Musgrove isn ?t the first pitcher to be fed a fastball heavy diet after coming to Pittsburgh. J.A. Happ, Edinson Volquez and A.J. Burnett are proof that the ideology can work. Jon Niese, 2017 Francisco Liriano and Daniel Hudson are proof that it doesn ?t work all the time. Musgrove looks to be in the group of the former rather than the latter. He ?s a fastball pitcher on a fastball loving team. It seems like a perfect match.