It’s not time to worry about Padres’ Joe Musgrove

Apr 29, 2023; Mexico City, Mexico; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Joe Musgrove (44) throws in the third inning against the San Francisco Giants during a MLB World Tour game at Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Musgrove is off to a very slow start in 2023. However, it’s not quite time to hit the panic button on him yet.

Yes, the elephant in the room is that the entire 2023 Padres team has, so far, been a massive disappointment. That makes the struggles of any player who is being paid handsomely by the Padres amplified tenfold.

Musgrove enters his first full season following the five-year, $100 million extension he signed last August.

His 2023 got off to an inauspicious start, with him dropping a weight on his toe during Spring Training. That set him back six weeks. Now, five starts into his campaign, he owns a dreadful 6.75 ERA and a team-worst 61 ERA+. He has allowed at least four earned runs in three starts.

Here are four reasons why it’s not time to panic quite yet.

The lack of Spring Training

We must remember that Musgrove’s traditional Spring Training ended on February 28. After the mishap in the weight room, he spent the remainder of his time in Peoria, staying loose and waiting for that toe to heal. Even though he could get some work in, it was far from a normal spring for him.

Musgrove was not able to have the normal buildup starters get during spring. He never appeared in a single official spring game. His first real game action was his first start against the Diamondbacks on April 22.

Most starters can count on about four starts during spring to loosen their arm and build up strength toward going deep into games. Musgrove never got that chance, aside from bullpen work and simulated games. He is basically just finishing Spring Training with his current workload.

Underlying numbers

While yes, the ERA and ERA+ certainly do not look good, other numbers for Musgrove should provide some hope. What isn’t shown on the “back of his baseball card” is his elite fastball spin rate, which is up from last season. He currently resides in the 99th percentile for spin rate. He is also in the 80th percentile for chase rate.

While his signature slider has been hit harder, to the tune of a .471 batting average against, the xBA (expected batting average) of his slider sits at .285, nearly 200 points lower. This implies there has been some serious bad luck involved when hitters make contact with his slider. Hitters are batting .267 against his fastball, with an expected batting average of .217.

It might just be a matter of letting some of these numbers even out. Understandably, fans have far less patience right now, given the team’s struggles. No one wants to hear this, but it might prove true.

Plus, can’t we just throw out that start he had in Mexico City? He allowed seven runs in 3 1/3 innings at that seemingly anti-gravity ballpark. His numbers are bloated from that forgettable outing.

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The track record

How quick we are to forget that just last season, Musgrove put together an All-Star year. And it wasn’t just a hot two months for him to get invited to the Midsummer Classic; he kept it up all season. He had four separate months in 2022 of an ERA lower than 3.00.

He maintained his success over 181 innings, with a 2.93 ERA. In fact, he became just the seventh pitcher in Padres history to throw at least 180 innings, strike out at least 180 batters with an ERA under three.

Over his previous two full seasons, Musgrove reached 181 innings each season with a combined 3.06 ERA and 125 ERA+ over 62 games. It’s hard to believe that after two full seasons of All-Star-level pitching, he all of a sudden forgot how to pitch.

The work ethic

Much was made of Musgrove’s off-season trip to Antarctica. He is one who thinks outside the box and is always looking for an edge. He should get some credit for taking Fernando Tatis Jr. under his wing in the offseason and having him join his underwater workout routine. There are numerous examples out there of his elite work ethic.

If there is one thing that should not be questioned with Musgrove, it’s his desire to improve and strive for greatness.

All things factors combined should provide Musgrove with some grace as he gets his sea legs in 2023.

Frankly, the Padres have much bigger worries at the moment.

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