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Joe Musgrove has quietly put together a nice season

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at San Francisco Giants Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Not much has gone right for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019. We can all agree on that. With a week left in the season, the team (65-91) currently embarks on nine-game losing streak. The season can’t end soon enough.

There have been some bright spots though. Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman have exceeded expectations by putting together solid rookie seasons. Josh Bell took a leap forward offensively. Starling Marte is still doing Starling Marte things. Even Adam Frazier set a career high in fWAR (2.2).

Sure, the Pirates will end up being a bottom-third offense this season among most categories, but they at least have some guys that can produce.

On the pitching side, positives are harder to find. Jameson Taillon will miss the 2020 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, his second time undergoing the procedure. Chris Archer and Trevor Williams each regressed severely, as did Kyle Crick. Mitch Keller has shown signs of having great stuff but has also allowed a hefty serving of hard contact too. Steven Brault looked solid for some time, but his overall numbers suggest that he’s average at best.

Through all of the disappointments on the mound this season, one starting pitcher has been pretty good.

Joe Musgrove.

I know it’s easy to hate on Musgrove. He was the key piece brought back from the Houston Astros in the Gerrit Cole trade. At this point in time, Musgrove will more than likely be the only player of value that the Pirates actually got in the deal. Cole, meanwhile, is among the best starting pitchers in baseball and will make all of the money this offseason. His rise has been painfully predictable yet extremely fun to watch from afar. Good for him.

Anyways, Musgrove can only control what he himself does. It’s obviously not his fault that he’s on the wrong side of a laughably lopsided trade.

This season, he’s been solid. In 164.1 innings, Musgrove is 10-12 with a 4.49 ERA and 3.91 FIP. He has 149 strikeouts and 37 walks. On the surface, those numbers aren’t eye popping. That said, his fWAR of 3.1 leads all Pirates’ pitchers and is 42nd among all pitchers in baseball.

On the Baseball Prospectus side of things, Musgrove has a 3.7 BWARP and 3.72 DRA, both encouraging numbers.

When comparing last year to this year, a lot of his numbers are nearly identical. He’s striking out and walking slightly more batters. His swinging strike percentage is a tick up. He’s giving up hard contact at a marginally higher clip. His ground ball rate is a little bit down. The BABIP is slightly up. Nothing has really changed in a big way.

Even his pitch usage hasn’t changed much from 2018 to 2019. Musgrove has thrown about 50 percent four-seam fastballs and 20 percent sliders over the past two seasons. His changeup has been in the 10-13 percent range. The only major difference in pitch usage this season has been less cutters and more curveballs.

In terms of pitch effectiveness, Musgrove has seen some changes from last season to this season. Opponents are hitting his fastball with greater success this year. This can probably be attributed to a lower fastball velocity early on in the season. On the other hand, Musgrove’s breaking pitches have had greater success this year than last.

The biggest change for Musgrove from 2018 to 2019 has been his innings pitched. Last year, injuries only allowed him to toss 115.1 innings. With one more start this year, he could eclipse 170 innings. This alone has led to his spike in WAR.

Musgrove will be 27 years old for the 2020 season. He has three seasons left of team control after this year and will become a free agent in 2023.

Obviously Musgrove is no Cole. That trade will never feel even barely sufficient for Pirates fans even if Cole leaves the Astros this offseason.

That said, if Musgrove can continue to increase his innings and get near or above the 200 mark, he will continue his track of being a solid mid-rotation guy. If he can find a way to up his innings and increase his strike out rate say 5-7 percent, his ceiling will be much, much higher.

All in all, this season was encouraging for Musgrove. He proved what he is. A solid major league starting pitcher. Right now, he’s the only one the Pirates got.