Joe Musgrove’s second half of the season was rough. Looking at the sample size from just after the All-Star Break in mid-July on through to the end of August, it seemed that the typically consitent righty couldn’t find his rhythm. That was especially frustrating considering the struggles the rest of the staff was having and how quiet the Bucs offense became.
As August progressed, we saw glimpses of the strikeout potential and command that made Musgrove such a popular breakout choice, but the consistency wasn’t there. That’s why September provided such a sigh of relief in a mostly disastrous Pirates season.
In three starts this month, Big Joe allowed just four earned runs over his 16 innings pitched without allowing a homer and walking just four batters. His WHIP for September was a clean 1.00 with a batting average against of .207. Most impressively, though, was his strikeout count. He collected 21 strikeouts in those 16 innings, helping him to 157 on the year compared to just 39 walks and 21 homers. He was able to combine his typical command and weak contact with some clear swing-and-miss stuff.
Looking at the pitch usage for the final three outings compared to the rest of the season, it’s hard to draw any clear conclusions. Musgrove’s pitch mix is so vast that he tends to adjust and settle into certain pitches as the outings go on. However, the whiff count was clearly higher in the last three games, collecting 13, 18, 15 swing-and-misses respectively. Each outing it seemed he collected those whiffs in different ways. Sure, some of this can be chalked up to bad teams. It was the Giants, Mariners, and a very depleted Cubs lineup after all. Even still, this type of trend is something we as Pirates fans, looking for any positives at all at this point, can get behind.
Joe Musgrove will be a pivotal piece in the Pirates pitching roation in 2020. Not considering any key offseason addtions (please, Neal Huntington?!), the Bucs will likely role out a combination of Musgrove, Trevor Williams, Chris Archer, Mitch Keller, and Steven Brault based on what we’ve seen the past couple of months. Do you see a clear ace of that rotation? Yeah, me neither.
I’m not saying Musgrove can be that, but he might be the best chance we have. I think Keller has the best raw stuff to take over that role while we wait for Jameson Taillon’s return in 2021, but there will almost certainly be bumps in the road in his first full season. Archer is a true wild card based on what we saw in his 2019 stretches. Williams should be a fine third or fourth option if he can get (and stay) healthy. I love Brault as the fifth guy if that’s all we need him for.
So, if Musgrove can take the strikeout stuff he showed in spurts in 2019 and apply it to his overall approach in 2020 without losing his awesome command and ability to produce soft contact in a pinch, I think he has a real shot to make a big leap in his age 27 season.
All numbers and logical arguments aside, I just love this guy. Musgrove is constantly one of the most enjoyable players to watch on both sides of the ball. He’s active on Twitter, he’s always pumping up his teammates and the city of Pittsburgh, and he just seems like a great guy to have a beer with. He has playoff experience, and he’s ready to help the Pirates get back to their 2013-2015 promise. If there’s someone other than Jamo that I could choose to lead this staff, it would be our boy Big Joe.