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Joe Musgrove Likes to Change it Up


MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates starter Joe Musgrove is not afraid to change things up.

As I was watching the Pittsburgh Pirates finally win a series again last night, I was struck by Joe Musgrove’s use of a changeup.

He threw 18 of them last night, 18.5 percent of his pitches. That percentage is actually higher than his season rate of 12.3 percent, which places him second among Pirates staters, only to Nick Kingham and Trevor Williams, each pulling the string an even 15 percent of the time.

He threw them for soft, manageable contact:

He pulled it at the right time to fool Tucker Barnhart:

Like many RHPs, Musgrove prefers to throw the changeup against left-handed hitters rather than same side sluggers. Of his 179 changeups thrown, 146 have come to lefty hitters. This is a tried-and-true phenomenon in baseball that is here to stay, despite the Tampa Bay Raysbest efforts to change it.

Musgrove might be wise to keep the split as status quo, because his changeup is not without warts.

Note: in this graphic, we see Musgrove’s usage and speed on the left. On the right we see his movement on his pitches. The “gear shaped” icon right behind Musgrove’s pitch location (in this example, his changeup) represents the league average.

Musgrove’s change is right in the middle of the 75 percent range of movement among all qualified MLB starting pitchers, though he does have a bit more vertical break than league average.

The lack of sample size (we are just talking about 33 changeups against RHHs) doesn’t help us here, but we can say that the change against righties carries a .078 xwOBA. Not to be outdone, left-handed hitters muster just a .243 xwOBA against.

This is why this is important

Let’s get to the point. Musgrove makes for an interesting starter chiefly due to his pitch selection.

As seen above, Musgrove can throw a four-seamer, slider, sinker and cutter at any point in the count. Having a capable offspeed pitch helps all of those pitches play up, a fact bolstered by looking at Musgrove’s pitch pairs against lefties.

I left this chart at three pairs for brevity, but also seen is a CH-CH pairing (fifth most) and an interesting SI-CH pairing (7th most).

Mixing speeds and locations along with finding the right mix are the key to any pitcher’s long-term success. Well, most pitchers. Any pitcher that does not have dazzling velocity must rely on craft rather than brute force.

It’s still early in Joe Musgrove’s tenure as a starting pitcher, but the emergence of a changeup as a useful pitch can do wonders for him in terms of remaining in the rotation. Last season, which saw him relegated to the bullpen after struggling as a starter, Musgrove used the changeup only 8.9 percent of the time as a starter. His highest volume pair that involved a changeup (regardless of batter stance) was a FA-CH at 24 pairs. Clearly, the right-hander was not using the pitch to its potential.

That seems to have changed since coming over to Pittsburgh, and will be something to keep an eye on with Musgrove moving forward.