Joe Musgrove talks evolution of curveball after first Padres start

Padres Joe Musgrove

Credit: Kevin Sullivan

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Following his first spring training start on Friday, San Diego Padres’ pitcher Joe Musgrove broke down how his curveball became a valuable weapon for him.

He’s not the name that grabs a headline, but Joe Musgrove might be one of the more underrated moves for the Padres this offseason. Acquired to bolster the rotation, the San Diego native returns home after spending the first five big league seasons split between the Astros and Pirates.

Musgrove made his Padres debut on Friday night, tossing two perfect innings while fanning Giants’ catcher Joey Bart to end his night.

Since his debut season in 2016, Musgrove has steadily improved and is coming off his best season to date, achieving several bests in the shortened 2020 season. According to advanced metrics, the 28-year-old was in the 93rd percentile in exit velocity, 89th percentile in expected slugging percentage, and 90th percentile in strikeout percentage.

A major factor in Musgrove’s success was the increased usage of his curveball.

“It gave me a better weapon to lefties,” Musgrove explained. “I was struggling with lefties a bit. I had what I thought was a good attack plan to use against lefties. The results were telling me different. I had to make an adjustment.”

Prior to 2020, Musgrove was utilizing his curveball around 9.5 percent of the time. In 2020, he increased it to nearly 20 percent. The pitched yielded a remarkable 80.9 exit velocity, 0.050 average against, and 53.2 percent swing-and-miss rate.

“The curveball going into the season last year was probably my worst pitch,” the former 46th overall pick in 2011 said. “We put a lot of work into it. We found a good way to redesign a pitch that felt comfortable in my hand and got the shape and the action that we wanted. The velo[city] is kind of secondary to me but something that gives me a true 12-to-6 motion that’s a separator from my slider and my cutter.”

Musgrove has a healthy mix of pitches in his arsenal. Typically a pitcher’s fastball dominates near 50 percent of usage, but Musgrove utilizes his four-seamer just 27 percent of the time. He complements it with his slider (24.2 percent), curveball (19.9 percent), sinker (11.9 percent), changeup (10.7 percent), and cutter (6.2 percent).

A healthy mix to keep hitters off-balance, but perhaps no pitch more important to Musgrove’s success than his curveball.

“It’s been a good weapon for me,” he added. “I didn’t intend to throw it as much as I did last year. It was just so good for you. I kept using it. Our catchers love putting it down.”

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