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Reviewing Joe Musgrove's Record Debut

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The rookie right-hander looks to replicate his dominant first outing against the Rangers the afternoon.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last Tuesday, Joe Musgrove was called from the bullpen to put a hold on a deteriorating situation in the Astros matchup against Toronto. Lance McCullers, who was so dominant in the month of July, left the game against one of the better lineups in the American League. Though down just a run at the time, throwing a rookie pitcher making his MLB debut against a scorching hot lineup isn't exactly what A.J. Hinch had in mind.

Though the Astros ended up falling to Toronto, it wasn't because of Musgrove. The right-hander, ranked as the seventh-best Astros prospect on MLB.com, kept the Astros in the game and defended Jeff Luhnow's decision to not trade him for proven major league talent with 4.1 dominant innings, including eight strikeouts. That mark tied a major league record for strikeouts by a relief pitcher in a major league debut, and set the stage for an important start today against Texas.

In this article, we'll take a look at Musgrove's pitch selections, outcomes and velocity against his minor league scouting reports. Through extensive scouting and showcases like the Futures Game, it's becoming increasingly easier to get a read on minor league prospects and what they bring to the major league table before they even reach it. However, Pitch F/X can show us precisely how Musgrove's stuff last week stacks up to what was advertised.

First, here's a piece of Musgrove's most recent report from MLB.com:

"Musgrove's outstanding control is more impressive than any of his individual pitches. He has a clean delivery and repeats it at will, allowing him to pound the bottom of the strike zone. His stuff isn't bad either: his 90-95 mph fastball plays up because of its life and command, his curveball and slider are solid breaking pitches and his changeup qualifies as average."

And now Musgrove's pitch charts on strikes (split into two graphs by batter handedness) and balls last week.


Musgrove's off-speed stuff was his go-to for swinging strikes on Tuesday. He must have felt extremely confident in his slider, as he was able to distribute that offering up in the zone and get a few calls (one very generous) and some swings and misses across the plate. His curve was also a weapon, getting three swings on curveballs well out of the zone. Though the fastball only generated one swing and miss, Musgrove located the pitch down and out of the danger zone against righties.

Musgrove's swing and miss plot against lefties looks a little emptier, which can be attributed to the righty-heavy lineup John Gibbons rolled out to initially face Lance McCullers. Off speed pitches were a little less of a swing and miss offering for Musgrove against lefties, though he did get a couple of swings on low curveballs.

Interestingly, Pitch F/X didn't give credit to Musgrove for throwing a single slider to a left-handed hitter. The pitch was used amply against righties, but Musgrove instead held it back from the two left-handed hitters he faced (Michael Saunders and Josh Thole). We'll see if that becomes Musgrove's slider usage shows that discrepancy going forward.


The one conclusion from Musgrove's pitch usage on offerings out of the zone is the difference he showed between location and fastball combo. Musgrove pounded the bottom of the zone with his four-seam fastball, again keeping it away from the heart of the plate like he showed against righties. His cut fastball, though, ended up mostly on the outer edge of the zone on righties. I have no idea on what Musgrove's intentions were the different locations of his fastball offerings, but the distribution looks at least a little bit intentional.

Finally, Musgrove didn't show much in the way of his change-up last week. This pitch has always been his fourth or (fifth, considering the two fastball variations) best offering, qualifying as "average" in his scouting report above. He only threw four of them, and all to lefties Saunders or Thole. So, it still looks as if Musgrove isn't quite confident in the progression of his changeup to throw it consistently yet. Musgrove's changeup usage and the outcomes on that pitch will be another trend to look out for in the future.

One final thought: Musgrove' fastball velocity took a dip to an average of 90 mph by the ninth inning. Here's a plot of his four-seam release speed by innings (which should read 5 through 9 on horizontal axis). 

Musgrove came into Tuesday's game under inconvenient circumstances; he had to warm up for his major league debut on the fly after McCullers' exit, and could have been pitching with a different level of energy coming out of relief as opposed to pacing himself as a starter. Any of those factors could contribute to a velocity dip by his fourth inning of work, though the Astros will need Musgrove to pitch deeper than that into today's game. On the positive side, that fastball dip still falls within the range of Musgrove's fastball based on his scouting reports. That, and his ability to generate strikes on off speed pitches were encouraging signs of Musgrove's potential.