JOE MUSGROVE, RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: December 4, 1992
Drafted: 1st Round, 46th Overall, 2011 (Blue Jays)
How Acquired: Trade (from Astros for Gerrit Cole)
High School: Grossmont HS, El Cajon, CA
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|After being drafted in the supplemental first round, Musgrove struggled to stay healthy for several years. In 2015, he broke out, moving up rapidly and reaching the majors in 2016. He throws the standard four pitches, with a fastball that sits around 92-93 as a starter and 95-97 as a reliever. None of his pitches is considered an out pitch, although he’s usually had solid K rates. He’s generally had very low walk rates, but he’s had gopher ball problems since he reached the upper minors. He’s not a fly ball pitcher, but his HR/FB rates have been very high since he reached AA. This is reflected in xFIPs that were over half a run lower than his ERAs in AAA in 2016 and in the majors in 2017. He struggled as a starter with the Astros in 2017 and eventually got sent to the bullpen, where he was much more effective. The Pirates obtained Musgrove in the Gerrit Cole trade.
Musgrove pitched well in his debut, much better than his ERA indicates. Baseball America rated him 20th in the Jays’ system after the season.
The Jays traded Musgrove to Houston in July as part of a very large deal. Thanks to a rotator cuff sprain, he wasn’t able to pitch much.
Musgrove again had his season shortened, this time by a sprained elbow ligament.
Musgrove managed to stay in the rotation in the New York-Penn League and pitched well, with very good control. BA ranked him 19th in the Astros’ system after the season.
Musgrove had a breakout season, advancing through three levels and dominating at all of them. BA ranked him sixth among Astros’ prospects after the season.
Houston sent Musgrove to AA to start the season, but he continued to dominate there and they moved him up to AAA in May. He pitched well enough in AAA, especially considering that it was the Pacific Coast League, but he had some gopher ball problems, allowing better than one every eight innings. In early August, Musgrove joined the Houston rotation for the rest of the season. He again pitched well, but again had some gopher ball issues, allowing one every seven innings.
Musgrove opened the season in the Astros’ rotation but struggled in that role, posting an ERA of 6.12 and getting lit up for a 306/356/526. He had major problems once batters had seen a lot of him, with a 361/437/639 batting line against him the third time through the lineup. Houston moved him to relief in August and he pitched very well, with a 1.44 ERA and 196/244/321 opponents’ line. He particularly had trouble with gopher balls as a starter, allowing better than one every five innings. He had a mild reverse platoon split. He saw a velocity jump as a reliever, but he’s said that it occurred as a result of changes to his mechanics and not due to the move.
Musgrove’s debut season with the Pirates was plagued by injuries. He missed the first two months with a shoulder strain. In May he went on the disabled list for a brief stint due to an infection in a finger. Finally, the Pirates shut him down in mid-September with an abdominal wall muscle strain and stress reaction in his pelvic bone. Musgrove said the injury had been bothering him for much of the season’s second half and was increasingly becoming a problem, so it’s possible that it degraded his performance. Whether for that reason or not, his pitching did slide over the second half: his ERA was 3.38 in July, 4.20 in August and 5.40 in September. Musgrove did not adopt the Pirates’ fastball-heavy approach, throwing the pitch only about half the time, as he had in Houston. He cut his home run rate roughly in half from what it had been, but PNC Park probably played a role in that. He had a large platoon split, allowing a .777 OPS to left-handed batters and .613 to right-handed batters.
Musgrove tried resting for six weeks after he was shut down in 2018, but in the end he required surgery. He was nevertheless ready for the 2019 season and pitched a full season as a starter for the first time. He did not go deep into games a great deal. After going past six innings four times in his first five starts, he got past six only five times in his last 26. Musgrove had a lot of ups and downs during the season, with monthly ERAs as follows:
Musgrove wasn’t nearly as impacted by the home run explosion as the rest of the staff, allowing 1.1 per nine innings, compared to 1.6 for the rest of the staff. He had trouble with left-handed hitters, allowing them an OPS of .803 while holding right-handed hitters to .678. The Pirates took advantage of Musgrove’s outstanding athleticism by employing him as a pinch runner eight times. With the Pirates chronically playing with a short bench, he also pinch hit six times. He’s not, though, an especially good hitter; he has a .375 career OPS and went 1-for-6 as a pinch hitter, but he did have two doubles and triple in 2019. The latter was the first by a Pirates pitcher since Brian Burres hit one in 2010.
Musgrove had another frustrating season, although it finished well. He struggled through three rough starts, then went on the injured list with triceps inflammation. He came back to make five starts and had a 2.16 ERA in them. In his last two starts, he threw 13 shutout innings, with just six hits allowed and 21 strikeouts. He gave up five home runs, with four coming in his first two games and just one in his last six. For the season he walked more than in the past, but opponents batted just .223 against him and his K rate was easily a career high. Like much of the staff, Musgrove sharply increased his breaking ball usage, mainly his curve, at the expense of his fastball. Opponents didn’t swing at the curve a great deal, but they batted just .050 against it. Musgrove probably pitched better than his ERA indicates; his xFIP was 3.19.
The Pirates will no doubt go into 2021 once again hoping for a breakout season from Musgrove, and he did improve in his limited 2020 season. He’s eligible for arbitration for the second time and the Pirates will probably remain in extreme payroll-slashing mode in the aftermath of the pandemic. If he pitches well, he’ll also be one of their few tradeable commodities.
|Signing Bonus: $500,000
MiLB Debut: 2011
MLB Debut: 8/2/2016
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2023
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/20/2015
Options Remaining: 2 (USED: 2016)
MLB Service Time: 4.063
|June 6, 2011: Drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the supplemental 1st round, 46th overall pick; signed on June 7.
July 20, 2012: Traded by the Toronto Blue Jays with Ben Francisco, Francisco Cordero, David Rollins, Asher Wojciechowski, Carlos Perez and Kevin Comer to the Houston Astros for David Carpenter, J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon.
November 20, 2015: Contract purchased by the Houston Astros.
January 13, 2018: Traded by the Houston Astros with Colin Moran, Michael Feliz and Jason Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Gerrit Cole.