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It’s easier for a pitcher to get buried this time of year. Some clubs are already playing out the string, others are trying out new personnel after the trade deadline reshaped the roster, while some teams are just now preparing to wave the white flag. Blink and you may have missed the meteoric rise of the first pitcher in our pitching notebook for week 19, but his is a case worth investigating.

Joe Musgrove

Musgrove has carried most of the statistical indicators for greatness throughout his minor-league career, with nearly a K-per-inning, just 1.1 HR/9 allowed and an incredible avoidance of walks with just 1.1 BB/9 across 337.3 innings in the minors. It might not be ideal in a day when strikeouts and radar-guns rule the land, but perhaps he deserved better treatment than missing the top 10 in Houston’s deep system when BP did our preseason rankings—though he did make the “five who are just interesting,” with a note that he would be a top-10 player in just about every other system.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

August 12

7.0

2

6

1

1

7

94

August 7

7.0

1

5

0

0

6

99

August 2

4.1

0

1

0

1

8

66

Musgrove is not a soft-tosser, despite the common convention that control artists have modest velocity, but with a 92.7 mph average on his fastball (weighted average, sinkers and four-seamers through yesterday’s game, courtesy of Brooks Baseball) the right-hander fails to stand out in a sea of pitching prospects with more impressive velocities. He threw majority fastballs in his first two turns, then flipped the script with some extra secondaries in yesterday’s game against the Blue Jays. It was his roughest start so far in the bigs, but the fact that Musgrove was facing the Jays (albeit without Jose Bautista) and still only let up two runs with seven strikeouts over seven frames was beyond impressive. It was actually his second time facing Toronto in three starts, with the other game coming against the Rangers, so by no means has Musgrove had an easy landing as he toes a big-league rubber for the first time.

The secondary of choice is a low-80s slider that he has brought to the table more than 32 percent of the time through his first three starts at the highest level. The slider was in top form yesterday, inducing his first four strikeouts of the outing and six of his seven Ks overall. He can bury the pitch or drop it into the strike zone, sometimes invoking empty swings and other times earning the called strike three. He exemplifies true pitch command, with the ability to hit targets both in and out of the zone, even with his breaking stuff. Big-league hitters just appear to be helpless against the pitch.

A pitcher with such a low walk rate would typically be expected to have outstanding balance, a trait that makes it easier to repeat the delivery and reap the benefits of pitch command. However, Musgrove does not have outstanding balance, in fact demonstrating imbalance in all three planes during the lift-and-stride portion of his motion. There’s a tuck into max leg lift (X-plane), a heavy drop-and-drive out of max leg lift and into his stride (Y-plane) in addition to some lean-back toward second base (Z-plane) with a rock-n-roll pattern that occurs late in his stride. Most of these issues are minor, though the drop-n-drive is pretty heavy, and Musgrove rights the ship in time to have 65-to-70-grade posture by the time that he reaches release point. He also has a naturally elevated angle of shoulder abduction that gives him a three-quarters release point despite the excellent posture (many pitchers with such fine posture are closer to a sidearm slot).

His power isn’t bad, with a late burst to the plate that aids his momentum and an efficient line of kinetic energy directed toward the target, a trait which becomes apparent when watching his forward momentum continue during follow-through. Musgrove also has plus torque to show for his average fastball, using his core efficiently to generate hip-shoulder separation, utilizing a combination of some upper-body twist (away from the plate) and a delayed trigger of rotation after foot strike. It is here that his command takes root, as Musgrove has the gears of rotation exquisitely aligned, repeating the timing between foot strike and firing the trigger of trunk rotation with incredible consistency.

Musgrove’s release point isn’t terribly consistent—it’s not inconsistent, either, but is merely average—but he just fills up the strike zone with every trick in his bag, yet he does so while avoiding the dead middle of the zone (the number “5” on the strike zone keypad). Check out the plot from yesterday’s game:

Musgrove Plot, 8-12-16.gif

It’s a visual lesson in throwing quality strikes and burying secondaries. Musgrove stayed away from the middle of the strike zone on Friday, working the fastballs up in the zone and effectively burying the breaking stuff underneath the hard deck. He made surprisingly few mistakes for such a young player, and his slider had sharp enough movement to freeze hitters when thrown in the zone and get them chasing when the pitch was buried. Most impressive is the number of pitches that finished in either the bottom quartile of the strike zone or within the six-inch stripe just beneath it. Carlos Zambrano made the lowball approach work for years, and though Musgrave lacks the raw stuff of Zambrano, his pitch command is light years ahead at this stage of his career.

This will be on the final exam.

J.A. Happ

The Blue Jays suddenly find themselves awash with pitching—albeit sketch pitching, but arms nonetheless—after a flurry of offseason moves brought into the fold Francisco Liriano, Scott Feldman, Joaquin Benoit and Mike Bolinger. The Jays also made the decision to keep Aaron Sanchez in the rotation despite a mounting innings count that is set to dwarf any previous season’s workload, as the Jays are going to go with a six-man rotation down the stretch in order to spread out the workloads. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of this season, however, has been the performance of J.A. Happ.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

August 10

6.0

0

4

0

2

7

98

August 4

6.0

1

4

0

1

6

89

July 30

7.0

1

3

0

3

11

101

Happ leads the major leagues in wins this season as part of a 16-3 record. The 33-year-old southpaw has a 2.96 ERA, has allowed two total runs over his last four starts combined (25.0 IP, 0.72 ERA) and has recorded a 55:12 K:BB over his last seven turns covering 43.1 innings pitched. Happ has also kept the ball in the yard, giving up just two homers over that same seven-start stretch and three bombs over his last 10. There is nothing that stands out in his peripheral stats when comparing 2016 to the past two seasons, with similar rates of strikeouts, walks and homers allowed.

The best stretch of his career was actually the second part of 2015, in which he pitched for the Pirates under pitching coach Ray Searage. During that stretch, Happ posted career-best rates of strikeouts (27.7 percent) and walks (5.2 percent) over 63.3 innings with Pittsburgh, but over the past seven starts he has been even more dominant with a K rate of 33.1-percent. Twice he had single games of 11 strikeouts, which was pretty significant for a pitcher who had struck posted double-digit strikeout games just three times in the previous six years up to that point. The 11 strikeouts represented the second-highest single-game total of his career, and Happ pulled it off twice in the span of five starts.

Notice that the above strikeout came on a four-seam fastball, Over this recent seven-start stretch, the vast majority of his strikeouts have come on the four-seam fastball, a pitch that accounts for 41 of his 55 strikeouts. His two-seamer has finished off seven more of his punchouts, bringing the fastball K-count to 48 of 55 (87.3 percent), as the next-biggest strikeout pitch was the cutter with a mere three whiffs. Rarely do pitchers use the fastball which such exclusivity to finish strikeouts, but once again, this is not special with respect to Happ, who has historically leaned heavily on the fastball to generate his Ks – according to Brooks, his two- and four-seam fastballs have accounted for more than 70 percent of his career strikeouts.

Thank you for reading

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jkaflagg
8/13
Fun fact....JA Happ's first tour with the Blue Jays began with a trade from Houston that included a then-rookie ball hurler among six other players going to the Astros.....Joe Musgrove.
tombores99
8/15
That is an awesome fact! I think I'm gonna have to cite that on the Baseballholics Anonymous podcast that's recording tonight - thanks!