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Bucco Breakfast: Inside Joe Musgrove’s 2018 Strikeouts

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates SP Joe Musgrove is often referred to as a “bulldog” on the pitching mound. How did his bite match his bark in 2018?

Welcome to Bucco Breakfast, a new daily morning feature designed to help Pittsburgh Pirates fans through the offseason. Each day we’ll roll out a quick topic designed to spark conversation as well as provide some interesting baseball reading from around the web.

For this week’s Bucco Breakfast menu, we will look at how each Pirates’ starting pitcher earned his strikeouts in 2018. Today’s subject is Joe Musgrove.

Musgrove struck out an even 100 batters in his inaugural season in Pittsburgh. His K/9 (7.80) and K% (20.6 percent) were both down from 2017, though a subpar July in terms of striking hitters out brought those numbers down a bit. The right-hander finished quite strongly, striking out 43 hitters against just four walks over his last eight 2018 starts.

Can that trend propel him into 2019?

Changing it up

If you would have told me before I started this post that Musgrove would have struck out one-third of all of his batters for the season on his changeup, I would have called you a dirty liar. Yet, here we are:

(Click/tap to enlarge)

It goes without saying that seeing a Pittsburgh Pirates hurler with such a robust strikeout rate on a changeup is akin to seeing a Dodo out in the wild. For reference, here are all Pirates pitchers - starters or relievers - that struck out at least 10 hitters with a changeup:

Another surprise: All of Musgrove’s strikeouts on the changeup come with a whiff. Those 32 strikeouts are good for 21st in all of baseball among starters with at least 10 changeup-whiff punchouts.

Musgrove’s changeup is pretty standard in many ways, and solid in one vital one. First, the average. There is only a good-but-not-great 8.01 mph difference in his changeup velocity from his four-seam fastball. The pitch is not featured against same-side hitters as much as lefty bats (22.45 percent usage against LHH vs 6.79 percent on righties), falling in line with accepted baseball norms.

Yet, Musgrove’s change carries a 1974 rpm spin rate as opposed to an MLB-wide average right around 1746 rpm. While not a huge difference, there is enough there to add some built in deception to it, as hitters are often fooled into thinking the pitch is a fastball. This is especially true for Musgrove, who can throw three distinct fastballs anywhere in the zone.

All things considered, Pittsburgh Pirates fans should be very excited when thinking about what kind of punchout totals Joe Musgrove can put up in 2019 after a presumably normal offseason once healed from his recent abdomen surgery.

Daily Links

  • Yesterday was the deadline for teams to finalize their 40-man rosters before the winter meetings/rule five draft. One of the biggest head-scratchers came in the form of the Tampa Bay Rays designating slugger C.J. Cron.
  • It’s Hall of Fame vote time, so have a look at noted HOF guru Jay Jaffe’s 2019 primer.