Move past the feeling of Joe Musgrove being on the breakout list what feels like each of the last two seasons in the fantasy community and realize it actually may happen this time. It starts with Musgrove being traded to his hometown, San Diego, this offseason. After missing some time in 2020 with triceps inflammation, Musgrove returned with a rebound in his fastball velocity plus new-found trust in his curve. This fueled 13 consecutive shutout innings his last two starts striking out an eye popping 21 against two walks yielding only six hits. Why could the curve be the key to Musgrove's 2021?


Deviating from prior processes in these profiles, staying with how Musgrove changed his pitching patterns at the end of 2020 could be a key building block to his future. Starting with Statcast, Musgrove's arsenal can be overwhelming with six offerings. Here are his swinging strikes generated last season in a pitch plot:

With this in mind, Musgrove's performances by pitch on Statcast in 2020 display a piece of his developing breakout throwing ten percent fewer four-seam fastballs compared to 2019 along with more sliders and curveballs. Digging into each one's outcome, note expected statistics like expected batting (xBA) and expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) below:

?      Musgrove 2020 Four-Seam Fastball: 27 percent usage, .295 xBA, .369 xwOBA, 17 whiff percentage, 14 K%, 12 put away percent

?      Musgrove 2020 Slider: 24.2 percent usage, .120 xBA, .187 xwOBA, 50.6 whiff percentage, 54.9 K%, 32.6 put away percent

?      Musgrove 2020 Curveball: 24.2 percent usage, .080 xBA, .148 xwOBA, 53.2 whiff percentage, 59.1 K%, 31.7 put away percent

?      Musgrove Sinker: 11.9 percent usage, .276 xBA, .294 xwOBA, 10.9 whiff percentage, 12 K%, 15.8 put away percent

?      Musgrove Change-up: 10.7 percent usage, .218 xBA, .332 xwOBA, 33.3 whiff percentage, 26.7 K%, 33.3 put away percent

All told, Musgrove recorded a .197 xBA, .268 xwOBA (35 points below his actual) and a 33 whiff percentage last season. His whiff rate rose by over eight percentage points despite producing fewer swings. Musgrove also allowed less contact in and out of the strike zone, induced more ground balls (47.3 ground ball percentage) and traded under contact for weak contact.

Focusing on his tweak in usage, Brooks Baseball allows one to dig even deeper. In September, Musgrove deviated a bit from the season numbers above fueling his 0.92 WHIP over his last 25 innings. Key on his curve use:

?      Four-seam Fastball in September: 27.8 percent usage, 9 SwStr%, 33.3 GB%, .381 BAA

?      Sinker in September: 11.3 percent usage, 8.9 SwStr%, 83.3 GB%, .231 BAA

?      Change-up in September: 8.8 percent usage, 8.6 SwStr%, 40 GB%, .000 BAA

?      Slider in September: 25.3 percent usage, 25.8 SwStr%, 41.7 GB%, .167 BAA

?      Curve in September: 22.1 percent usage, 25 SwStr%, 100 GB%, .000 BAA

?      Cutter in September: 4.8 percent usage, 22.1 SwStr%, 50 GB%, 1.000 BAA

It's tough from a scouting standpoint to ignore a pitcher evolving and Musgrove shared during an interview that he learned to trust his curve at the end of last season. Carrying this over, along with his fastball velocity, remain integral for his success in 2021. Predicting a pitching breakout comes in many forms, but two pitches with a 25-plus swinging strike percentage and 50-plus strikeout percentage remain scarce.

Overall in 2020, Musgrove won one of his six decisions logging 39.2 innings with a 55:16 K:BB, 3.86 ERA, 3.50 SIERA and 1.24 WHIP. He notched a career high 33.1 strikeout percentage and 14.4 swinging strike rate along with a career low 68.9 contact percent allowed. A wrinkle in any 2021 breakout lies in his durability. Musgrove's recorded more than 150 innings in the majors once, in 2019 missing some time in both 2017 and 2018 with shoulder issues, and then last year's triceps strain.

During 2018, Musgrove averaged 6.1 innings per start with the number decreasing to 5.4 innings in 2019 and finishing at five innings per start last year. But, his triceps issue affected this total and note he worked 13 innings between his last two starts of 2020. In an effort to expand his sample sizes to mine more data, here are Musgrove's results from the second half of 2019 through the end of last season along with his last three years:

?      Musgrove 2H 2019-through-2020: 6-10, 21 games started, 110.1 IP, 129:32 K:BB, 4.49 ERA, 3.79 SIERA, 1.23 WHIP, 27.6 K%, 6.9 BB%, 46.1 GB%, 13.4 SwStr%

?      Musgrove Last Three Years: 18-26, 58 games started, 325.1 IP, 312:.78 K:BB, 4.23 ERA, 4.06 SIERA, 1.16 WHIP, 22.8 K%, 5.7 BB%, 45.2 GB%, 12.1 SwStr%

Musgrove's burgeoning arsenal continues to improve in terms of strikeout rate and swinging strikes induced in recent results. It can be seen in this five-game rolling chart of his performance courtesy of Fangraphs displaying his swinging strike percentage (SwStr%), O-Swing (outside the strike zone) rate, ground ball percentage and his usage percentages of the two pitches highlighted throughout this profile:

Processing all of this information, Musgrove sits on the precipice of putting it all together in his hometown for his favorite team growing up. Projection systems may miss his underlying change in approach but if Musgrove keeps his usage patterns from September, it may fuel a new level to his results if he’s healthy. For now, here are how three sites forecast his 2021:

?      Musgrove 2021 Steamer projection: 11-10, 29 games started, 169 IP, 160:49 K:BB, 4.25 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

?      Musgrove 2021 ZiPS projection: 10-10, 26 games started, 140 IP, 141:33 K:BB, 3.99 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

?      Musgrove 2021 THE BAT projection: 12-9, 29 games started, 166:46 K:BB, 4.03 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

For those who believe the breakout occurs, use Musgrove's 3.50 SIERA from 2020 along with his 3.79 SIERA from the second half of 2019 through last season and his 3.86 xERA from Statcast as a sliding scale for ERA in the upcoming season. A migration to the mean of his walk rate towards his career 5.8 percent should keep traffic off the bases in San Diego. Musgrove could win up to 12 games this season with an ERA in the high three's (3.85-ish) and a WHIP in the 1.16-to-1.18 range if his gains carry over.

Any word on Musgrove improving his changeup or cutter could unlock the door to another level. For now, Musgrove's step forward with the curve added to his already terrific slider may be enough. He's not going to be a bargain in 2021 in draft capital, but his ceiling makes him a worthy pitcher to target for upside in regard to his return on investment.

Statistical Credits:

ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski

THE BAT courtesy of Derek Carty