What’s going on with Joe Musgrove?

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Credit: USA Today Sports

Joe Musgrove made San Diego Padres history, starting out the 2022 season with 12 consecutive quality starts.

That tremendous start meant that Musgrove recorded a minuscule 1.59 ERA to start the campaign and was undisputedly the Padres ace.

After being one of the best Padres pitchers in 2021, the fantastic start to 2022 meant that Musgrove’s value when he reached free agency was skyrocketing. A.J. Preller moved quickly to secure long-term starting pitching, and the sides agreed on a five-year, 100 million dollar contract. The deal seemed to be a match made in heaven. San Diego got to keep their talented starter, Musgrove got to stay in his hometown.

The fan favorite was locked down for half a decade with the Padres. Eight starts later, the deal’s outlook has changed drastically.

Since Musgrove signed the contract, he’s posted a 4.43 ERA, compared to a 2.63 mark before that. He recorded quality starts in 15 of the 18 starts before signing the deal and just four in nine starts since. After looking a certain bet to be the Padres’ number one starter in October, there is now a question about whether Musgrove deserves a playoff start at all. 

Joe Musgrove’s biggest issue has been the long ball.

Before the All-Star Break, he’d surrendered just nine home runs in 16 starts while giving up 12 long balls in 11 games since. Musgrove’s strikeout and walk rate have no statistical difference when comparing his first and second halves, so those two categories haven’t played a factor.

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The right-hander benefited from a .255 BABIP in the first half, which suggested that he’d been somewhat fortunate. In the second half, Musgrove’s BABIP has been .316, which does explain some of his regression. However, the skyrocketing of Musgrove’s home run rate has been the biggest issue, one that arose out of seemingly nowhere.

The difference has shown up dramatically in his average game score, which was 62 prior to the All-Star break, and dropped to 51 after. The league average game score is 50, so Musgrove has been just above an average pitcher since his debut All-Star appearance. 

It is possible that pitching every four days has been an issue for Musgrove. Prior to the All-Star break, the Padres used as much as a seven-man rotation. Nick Martinez’s move to the bullpen, as well as MacKenzie Gore’s trade, has returned the Padres to a traditional five-man staff. The loss of extra rest could be a major reason for Musgrove’s diminished success, as the wear of the season could be beginning to take its toll.

Another thing that has plagued Musgrove is his struggles as he gets deeper into the game. He possesses an ERA under 2.00 in the first three innings, which only drops to 2.36 in the fourth. However, in the fifth and sixth innings, his ERA skyrockets to a combined 6.42. This has shown up numerous times in the second half. 

After posting five shutout innings against the Mets, he allowed five runs in the sixth and took the loss. Musgrove allowed four runs against the Rockies in the fifth inning, ending his night. In San Francisco, he worked five innings of one-hit baseball before allowing three runs in the sixth and seventh innings. The Diamondbacks chased the right-hander from the game with three runs in the fifth inning; more recently, the Dodgers scored four times in the fifth and sixth to end Musgrove’s night.

That trend is extremely worrying and may mean that Musgrove will be given a very short leash in any postseason appearances. However, Musgrove’s struggles have coincided with Sean Manaea’s (7.63 second-half ERA) and Mike Clevinger’s (5.13 ERA), so it may be that Musgrove is the best option the Padres have to begin a playoff game. 

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In Musgrove’s most recent start, he put together six shutout innings of a four-hit ball against the Diamondbacks. The native of San Diego struck out eight in what was his best start of the second half. An off day allowed Musgrove to pitch on five days rest, and he took advantage of the extra day. He’ll pitch the final game of the series against St. Louis on three days rest, so it’ll be an important test to see if his strong form continues. 

Bob Melvin and the Padres should have plenty of trust in Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, but they’ll need to hope that Musgrove, or someone else, can find a way to get it together. 

With Musgrove signed in San Diego through 2027, The Padres need “no-no Joe” to find his All-Star form more than ever.

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