First Pitch: How Good Can Joe Musgrove Be in 2021?

I wrote about Mitch Keller’s strong finish to the season yesterday, following his 11 no-hit innings in his final two starts.

Not to be out-done, Joe Musgrove finished his season on a strong note last night, throwing seven shutout innings with ten strikeouts. This followed another outing where he threw six shutout innings with 11 strikeouts.

We’re dealing with nothing but small sample sizes in the 2020 season, but Musgrove has been dominant for the majority of the year. He struggled out of the gate, with some uncharacteristically bad control in his first three starts, before going down with an injury. In his final five outings after his return, Musgrove had a 2.16 ERA, a 1.95 xFIP, and a 38:5 K/BB ratio in 25 innings.

In a normal year, this would be a monthly trend that would provide hope for the remaining months of the season. In this season, that one month trend leaves something to dream about for the 2021 season.

I looked at the effectiveness of Keller’s pitches yesterday, pointing out the lack of swing and miss stuff. Musgrove has been dominant on that front, with a 22.1% whiff rate on his slider, 17.2% on his curveball, and 12.3% on his changeup. The slider has a .563 OPS against this year, and the curveball is at a minuscule .186 OPS.

We’ve seen flashes of Musgrove being this good. At the start of the 2019 season he had a 1.54 ERA in 35 innings, although his 31:7 K/BB ratio wasn’t as dominant as this stretch. He had an inconsistent year, with a down month of May, a good month of June, an average month of July, a poor August, and a dominant finish in September. In that final month of 2019, he had a 2.25 ERA and a 21:4 K/BB ratio in 16 innings.

One month doesn’t make a career, and Musgrove’s career trends show exactly that. He’s been dominant before, and he’s been inconsistent before, and those periods have followed one another.

At the very least, he should be counted on to repeat his 2018-2019 results, which saw him post a 2.2 and a 3.3 WAR, respectively. The only pitchers for the Pirates to perform better than Musgrove’s 2019 results since the start of the 2016 season are Gerrit Cole (2017) and Jameson Taillon (2018).

Of course, Trevor Williams had two years during that span with a 2.6 and 2.7 WAR, and Chad Kuhl had a 2.2 WAR in 2017, so obviously nothing is guaranteed.

Today’s discussion question: How good do you expect Joe Musgrove to be in 2021?

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First Pitch