In recent years, we’ve seen Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow reach ace status after being traded away from Pittsburgh. Is Joe Musgrove next?
The right-hander is reportedly drawing trade interest, three years after he joined the Pirates in the deal that sent Cole to the Astros. That wasn’t Musgrove’s first
In recent years, we’ve seen
The right-hander is
Musgrove’s ceiling is still not entirely clear, but he appears to be trending in a promising direction, with two years of team control remaining. His career 96 ERA+ suggests he’s a slightly below-average arm. However, he has recorded a 3.69 FIP over the past three seasons, tied with Cardinals’ ace
Musgrove, 28, also had his best season in 2020, posting a 3.86 ERA (116 ERA+) with the 10th-highest strikeout rate (33.1%) in MLB (min. 30 innings). His xERA was 3.23, a bit better than the 3.26 xERA posted by 33-year-old righty
While it was a small sample size of only eight starts, Musgrove is one of the most intriguing trade candidates on the market, and the interest in him may only grow with Lynn,
Here are some of the factors teams are likely considering as they ponder Musgrove’s future value.
His curveball could be an elite weapon
Over his first four seasons, Musgrove used his curveball only 7.5% of the time and recorded an average spin rate of 2,547 rpm with the pitch. The league average spin rate on curveballs in that span was 2,493 rpm.
Last season, though, he leaned on his curveball more often, throwing it nearly 20% of the time. He also bumped his spin rate to 2,712 rpm and generated above-average vertical and horizontal movement, getting 2.9 more inches of drop and 4.4 more inches of break than the average curveball.
As a result, the pitch morphed into one of the most devastating offerings in the game.
Highest whiff rate on any single pitch type, SP, 2020
Min. 25 swings vs. that pitch
1. Blake Snell’s curveball: 61.8%
2. Shane Bieber’s slider: 61.2%
3. Corbin Burnes’ slider: 55.2%
4. Shane Bieber’s changeup: 53.7%
5. Joe Musgrove’s curveball: 53.2%
Among the 128 hurlers who ended at least 20 plate appearances with a curveball in 2020, only six allowed a lower xwOBA and just two had a better xBA on curves than Musgrove (.148 xwOBA, .080 xBA), who held batters to one hit in 20 at-bats with 13 strikeouts on curveballs.
His slider, too
Musgrove’s curveball wasn’t the only one of his breaking pitches that baffled hitters in 2020. The righty also dominated with his slider, which has long been his most effective offering.
Remember when Musgrove struck out
As he did with his curveball, Musgrove got above-average vertical and horizontal movement with his slider. In fact, he ranked 10th among qualifiers in horizontal slider movement, generating 7.5 more inches of break than the average slider.
The righty limited batters to a .187 xwOBA on sliders last season, tied for 30th best among the 225 pitchers who ended at least 20 plate appearances with the pitch. And of the 77 swings he got on sliders in 2020, more than half (50.6%) were whiffs.
That made Musgrove one of two starters to register a whiff rate of 50% or better on multiple pitch types (min. 25 swings per pitch). The other? Indians right-hander
10 starters had a whiff rate of at least 50% on any specific pitch type in 2020 (min. 25 swings per pitch type).
2 starters had multiple offerings meeting this criteria: AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber … and Joe Musgrove. pic.twitter.com/67WggJw2Td
— Thomas Harrigan (@HarriganMLB) January 4, 2021
Using the same criteria, only 10 starters even reached the 40% threshold on multiple pitch types in 2020. In addition to Musgrove and Bieber, the list includes Cole, Snell,
Combined, Musgrove used a breaking ball 44.1% of the time in 2020, giving him the 15th-highest rate in MLB (min. 500 total pitches). Only seven pitchers allowed a lower xwOBA on breaking pitches.
Lowest xwOBA on breaking balls, 2020
Min. 50 plate appearances ending on breaking balls
1. Corbin Burnes: .118
2. Blake Snell: .128
3. Christian Javier: .134
4. Tyler Glasnow: .141
5. Zach Plesac: .155
6. Dylan Bundy: .157
7. Dinelson Lamet: .162
8. Joe Musgrove: .175
9. Tejay Antone: .183
10-T. Trevor Bauer: .188
10-T. Shane Bieber: .188
What’s holding him back?
Musgrove’s four-seam fastball, which sits between 92-93 mph, has been at the root of his inconsistency during his five-year career. This runs in contrast to Cole and Glasnow, who both have elite four-seamers.
Musgrove gets above-average spin on his four-seamers, but his active spin — the spin that contributes to movement — has been among the worst in the game in each of the past two years, which explains why his four-seamer has ranked poorly on the vertical movement leaderboard year after year.
Fastballs with less rising action generally miss fewer bats, and Musgrove’s fastball generated 4.1 inches less rise than the average four-seamer in 2020, leading to a whiff rate on four-seamers (17%) that was well below the MLB average (22.6%).
Musgrove did decrease his four-seamer usage in 2020, throwing it 27% of the time (37.6% in ’19), but it was still the most used pitch in his arsenal and yielded a .369 xwOBA.
Musgrove also throws a sinker and a cutter in addition to his four-seamer, but he hasn’t been able to establish any of his fastballs as a consistently reliable setup pitch for his slider, curve and changeup. Perhaps he never will. But considering how good his breaking stuff was in 2020, there should be a long list of teams willing to find out if he can unlock his full potential.