Sunday Notes: Joe Musgrove Had Already Broken Out

Joe Musgrove came into the season viewed by many as a breakout candidate, and it’s easy to see why. The 28-year-old Pirate-turned-Padre possesses plus stuff, and the change of scenery — from Pittsburgh to his hometown of San Diego, no less — portends more success…. particularly in the won-loss column. Musgrove went a paltry 1-5 with the N.L. Central cellar-dwellers in 2020, while his new club is poised to win, per our projections, 94 games in the current campaign.

By and large, the breakout has already happened, and not solely because the 6-foot-5, 235-pound right-hander hurled the year’s first no-hitter on Friday night. His 2020 peripherals were those of a pitcher who’d turned the corner. With the caveat that it was a pandemic-shortened season, Mugrove set career-bests in ERA, FIP, and strikeout rate, and more importantly, he did so with improved pitch profiles. Per StatCast, the spin and movement of his offerings were better than they’d ever been.

I asked the righty about that in a spring-training Zoom session.

“I’m not really a big analytical guy; I’m not big on the Rapsodo numbers,” responded Musgrove. “I look at that information more as a benchmark. When I have real strong outings, or I have real poor outings, I look at the numbers to see where they’re at when I’m good, or when I’m poor. But by no means am I going home and saying, ‘I need to get 200 more RPM on my curveball,’ or ‘I need to change the spin axis on this pitch.’ I kind of just let our analytical guys coach me up a little bit on that, and offer suggestions where they can.”

Musgrove didn’t add 200 RPMs to his curveball last year, but he did see it increase from 2,575 to 2,712, with added depth factoring to the equation. As for any suggestions he’s received, throwing fewer fastballs is clearly part of the plan. Musgrove lessened his heater usage in 2020, and this year it has decreased even further. In Friday’s no-no, just 15 of his 112 pitches were classified as fastballs. Sliders, cutters, and curveballs carried the day.

Circling back to my mid-March inquiries, the personable right-hander attributed the lion’s share of his improvement to better, and more consistent, mechanics.

“I feel like the change we saw last year was more me just having a really good feel for my delivery, and being able to repeat,” said Musgrove. “I did change my arm-action at the end of 2019. That was [from] watching guys like [Shane] Bieber and [Trevor] Bauer and [Lucas] Giolito, who were a little more consistent with their stuff in the zone than I was. It seemed like they were in really good positions with every pitch, and I’ve always had a good ability to watch somebody move, and be able to repeat that movement myself. I started doing that and saw my numbers jump up, so I went into the offseason and really tried to get more efficient with the arm-path I was taking out of my glove. I think the spin rates and the action on the pitches is kind of something that just comes secondary from that.”

The numbers don’t lie. With his pitches every bit as crisp as they were in his 2020 breakout, Musgrove has started the season with 15 scoreless innings (he has 31 straight stretching back to last season). Moreover, he’s allowed just three hits — none of them on Friday when he tossed the first no-hitter in Padres’ franchise history. Benchmarks in mind, Musgrove is clearly on top of his game.

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Alex Lange is on top of the world. The 25-year-old right-hander got called up to the big leagues for the first time yesterday when the Detroit Tigers put Julio Teheran on the Injured List with a shoulder strain. With the club in Cleveland as a member of the taxi squad, Lange received the news following Friday night’s game.

An analytic mindset has helped fuel the former LSU Tiger’s climb to the top, but no less important has been the nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic he brought with him to spring training. His description of that diligence during yesterday’s Zoom call with reporters was gold.

“Just continuing to work and using every day to keep going,” Lange said of his preparation. “Chop wood, carry water, every day. Just keep doing your thing. Chop wood, carry water every day, no matter the situation. That’s kind of the mentality I took over the past year… controlling what I can control, continue to do what I’m successful with, and continue to work at my craft.”

Acquired from the Cubs as part of the July 2019 Nick Castellanos deal, Lange thrives thanks to a mid-90s fastball and a plus curveball that he explained in nerdy detail here at FanGraphs a month ago. I reminded the righty — No. 11 on our Tigers Top Prospects list — of that conversation, and asked if he’d be where he is today without the help of pitching analytics.

“I have no idea, honestly,” admitted Lange, whom Eric Longnhagen has said “looks like a fire-breathing late-inning reliever. ”I know it’s helped me develop. I know I’ve gotten better from it. I think it’s a really, really good tool to help guys learn their stuff, and learn what makes them successful. Once you know what you’re good at, and why you’re good at it, then it’s easier to become more successful.”

The start to his Tigers tenure couldn’t have gone much better. Lange came out of the bullpen last night and fashioned a one-two-three inning, the last of the outs coming on his first career K.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Lee Tannehill went 15 for 100 against Eddie Plank.

Baby Doll Jacobson went 18 for 100 against Hooks Dauss.

Bill Mazeroski went 19 for 100 against Sandy Koufax.

Jack Burns went 20 for 100 against Lefty Grove.

Amos Strunk wet 21 for 100 against Eddie Cicotte.

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Some hitters have track records of getting off to slow starts, not warming up until they have a few weeks — if not a full month — under their proverbial belts. Others are the polar opposite; for whatever reason, they have a tendency to come out like gangbusters, raking in April.

Are track records of that ilk in any way predictive? And if so, would they influence how a manager puts together his batting order? I recently asked that question to Miami’s Don Mattingly.

“I’m not sure it’s predictive,” said the Marlins’ manager. “With some guys it seems like it takes a little bit of time to find their groove, to kind of get that rhythm of a season, their routines, to fall into place… Other guys you see come out and have great starts, and you look two weeks later and they’re under .200. So I’m not sure. It hasn’t really changed our order. I think we know who we have. In general, we try to find a combination that’s swinging the bat good together, but it’s not like this guy swings good in April so we’ll hit him at the top of the order, but he struggles in July, so now all of a sudden he’s hitting in back. So we kind of see what they look like at that moment in time, but also knowing that their track records show you a little something.

I asked Torey Lovullo the same question.

“Each game is independent of one another, and the feeling that each player has, day-to-day, changes,” the Arizona Diamondbacks manager replied. “You’re right that some guys have great Aprils, but every once in a while you’ll see a slow starter have a good April, too. So I don’t think you can predict it. It would be wonderful if you could, because then you could definitely adjust your lineup.

“We have a strategy for that here, with expected OPS, expected slug, and all that type of stuff,” continued Lovullo. “Our guys work really hard to give me that information, and I’ll adjust the lineups accordingly. But I feel like we have a good group of players that are going to have good and bad days. It’s hard to keep shuffling that around. It’s like trying to get the perfect color on roulette every single time. It’s almost impossible.”

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EIGHT EARLY-APRIL NOTABLES

Cincinnati’s Tyler Naquin is 9 for 27 with five home runs.

Colorado’s Ryan McMahon is 11 for 33 with five home runs.

Minnesota’s Nelson Cruz is 11 for 24 with four home runs.

Arizona’s Ketel Marte is 12 for 26 with two home runs.

Toronto’s Rowdy Tellez is 0 for 21 with eight strikeouts.

Oakland’s Sean Murphy is 1 for 18 with 10 strikeouts.

Atlanta’s Cristian Pache is 2 for 24 with 10 strikeouts.

Minnesota’s Miguel Sanó is 3 for 30 with 15 strikeouts.

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A quiz:

Which pitcher with at least 50 decisions has the highest winning percentage in Seattle Mariners franchise history?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Tim Locastro set a major league record on Saturday when he stole the 28th base of his career without having been caught. The previous record was held by Tim Raines, who was successful on his first 27 stolen base attempts. Locastro topped StatCast’s Sprint Speed Leaderboard last season.

Mike Carp has signed with the High Point Rockers of the independent Atlantic League. A veteran of six big-league seasons with a 107 wRC+ in exactly 1,000 plate appearances, the 34-year-old first baseman last played affiliated ball in 2015.

The Chicago Cubs have announced plans to erect a statue of Ferguson Jenkins outside Wrigley Field. The Chatham, Ontario native will be the fifth Cubs legend so honored, joining Ernie Banks, Harry Caray, Ron Santo and Billy Williams.

The Baltimore Orioles have promoted Adam Esselman to Manager, Baseball Communications. The Hamburg, Minnesota native has worked in AL East club’s PR department since 2016.

Bill Bryk, a longtime scout for the San Diego Padres, Pittsburgh Pirates, and more recently the Arizona Diamondbacks, died earlier this week at age 70. Honored with the George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award by the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation in 2010, Bryk was not only highly-respected, he was well-liked throughout the industry.

Ken Reitz, who played eight of his 11 big-league seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, died on March 31 at age 69. A Gold-Glove-winning third baseman in 1975, and a National League All-Star in 1980, Reitz had a .314 career batting average in the month of April, and a .260 batting average overall.

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The answer to the quiz is Paul Abbott. The right-hander went 36-17 for the Mariners from 1998-2002, giving him a .679 winning percentage to go with his 100 ERA+.

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The vast majority of players grew up rooting for a specific team, and while allegiances change once you sign a professional contract, the memories remain. Here are two such snapshots.

JT Brubaker hails from Southwest Ohio, not far from Cincinnati. For that reason, I expected the Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander to tell me that he grew up rooting for the Reds. It turns out I was wrong.

“I actually grew up a Red Sox fan,” Brubaker told me at the end of the 2021 season. “That’s because I was probably more of a player-follower than a team follower. I liked Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra. They were fun to watch. Jason Varitek was another guy I liked. A lot of those guys were fun for me to watch, growing up.”

Tampa Bay infielder Mike Brosseau hails from Indiana and attended college in Michigan, but his rooting interests were in Illinois. More specifically, they resided on Chicago’s North Side.

“My dad was a big Cubs fan, and he instilled that in me,” Brosseau recounted during last year’s postseason. “My favorite player growing up… I was a Sammy Sosa fan. I was a big Mark Prior fan. Kerry Wood. The list goes on. Big Cubs fan in general when I was growing up.”

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Shohei Ohtani starting on the mound and batting second in the Los Angeles Angels lineup last Sunday brought to mind a similar, albeit unplanned, occurrence from May 2009. Thanks to a lineup-card snafu, right-hander Andy Sonnanstine batted third for Tampa Bay in a game against Cleveland. Not only that, he had the last laugh. Along with going five-plus innings for the win, Sonnanstine swatted a run-scoring double. It wasn’t a complete fluke. The Kent State University product went 7 for 24, and drew three walks, in his five seasons with the Rays.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Eduardo Núñez has signed with the CPBL’s Fubon Guardians. A veteran of 11 MLB seasons, the 33-year-old infielder spent last season in the New York Mets organization.

Over in NPB, ORIX Buffaloes right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto has allowed 14 hits and two earned runs in three starts covering 23 innings. The 22-year-old has walked two and fanned 25.

Scott McGough has made five relief appearances, and thrown five perfect innings with four strikeouts, for the Yakult Swallows. A Monroeville, Pennsylvania native, the 31-year-old right-hander pitched for the Miami Marlins in 2015.

According to Lotte Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi, 19-year-old Roki Sasaki is “on track to start sometime around Japan’s Golden Week holidays from the end of this month through the first week of May.” The highly-touted right-hander — Sasaki was clocked at 101 mph in high school — made his professional debut a month ago but has yet to make his NPB debut (per Tokyo-based scribe Jim Allen).

Another NPB update from Allen is worth sharing, albeit for cultural-educational, rather than baseball-specific, reasons: “[Seibu’s Aito] Takeda is registered under his given name, although he turned pro in 2016 as Aito Otaki, and more likely than not changed it to his wife’s family name when he got married, a common practice when marrying into a family with no sons.”

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I bought a pack of 2021 Topps this past week, and according to the blurb on the back of Andrew Benintendi’s card, he wears the No. 16 on the back of his uniform as a tribute to his father, who once donned those digits at Wittenberg University. Benintendi — now a Kansas City Royal — was assigned No. 40 upon making his debut with the Boston Red Sox in 2016, but requested his favorite number from then-teammate Deven Marrero after the season.

If you collected as a kid — and like yours truly, still purchase an occasional pack as an adult — you know that the stats on the back are only part of the fun. The factoids are often fun as well.

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Jimmie Foxx ranks among the greatest players of all time. Playing (primarily) for the Philadelphia A’s and the Boston Red Sox from 1925-1945, “Double X” logged a 158 wRC+ and was worth 101.8 WAR. According to one of his contemporaries, he could very well have ended up doing his damage for the New York Yankees.

Interviewed for Norman Macht’s “They Played The Game: Memories from 47 Major Leaguers,” Billy Werber shared how Frank “Home Run” Baker — at the time running a team in the Class-D Eastern Shore League — tried to convince Yankees manager Miller Huggins to sign the 17-year-old Foxx. Huggins declined, so Baker approached A’s skipper Connie Mack with the same spiel. As they say, the rest is history.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Baseball Prospectus, Bill Nowlin looked at what MLB umpires experienced during the pandemic of 2020.

At Our Esquina, Johnny Flores wrote about how Miami’s Pablo López is emerging as a frontline starter.

The Athletic’s Zack Meisel wrote about the powerful tale behind Indians pitcher Logan Allen’s motivation.

Opening Day rosters included 45 players from draft rounds that no longer exist. J.J. Cooper shared that fact, and related information, at Baseball America.

USA Today’s Gabe Lacques wrote about how major leaguers who owe their careers to data and science are paradoxically hesitant to embrace a vaccination that could save their season.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Through Friday, three position players had a batting average of .667 or higher this season. Six pitchers had a batting average of .667 or higher.

Miami Marlins southpaw Trevor Rogers has two career wins. Jacob deGrom was the losing pitcher in each of those games.

The Colorado Rockies drafted, but didn’t sign, Chris Sale out of high school in 2007. Sale opted to attend Florida Gulf Coast University and was subsequently drafted and signed by the Chicago White Sox in 2010.

Willie Mays slashed .309/.400/.595 with 98 home runs in 383 career games against the Dodgers.

Ray Grimes holds the record for consecutive games with at least one RBI: 17 in 1922. A first baseman for the Chicago Cubs from 1920-1924, and the Philadelphia Phillies in 1926, Grimes slashed .329/.413/.480 in 1,788 career plate appearances.

In 1963, Red Sox first baseman Dick Stuart had 42 home runs, a 126 wRC+, and a league-leading 316 total bases. He also led the circuit with 24 GDP and was charged with 29 errors, the most for a first baseman in the past century. Stuart’s nickname was “Dr. Strangeglove.”

In 1900, New York Giants right-hander Bill Carrick went 19-22 with a 3.53 ERA. He allowed 415 hits, and struck out 63 batters, in 341-and-two-thirds innings of work. He was worth 3.1 WAR.

On today’s date in 2000, Ed Sprague homered twice to lead the San Diego Padres to a 3-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. Sprague’s first blast tied the game at two in the ninth, and his second was a 13th-inning walk-off.

On today’s date in 1993, Dave Nilsson caught Graeme Lloyd, making the Milwaukee Brewers duo the first all-Australian battery big-league history. Nilsson is a Brisbane native, while Lloyd was born in Geelong.

Players born on today’s date include Mike Kilkenny, who debuted with the Detroit Tigers in 1969 and went on to play for four teams over five big-league seasons. A southpaw from Bradford, Ontario, Kilkenny went 23-18 with a 4.43 ERA.

Also born on today’s date was Spencer Pumpelly, who pitched in one game for the Washington Senators in 1925. A Yale University product, Pumpelly served up a gopher to St. Louis Browns second baseman Marty McManus in his lone inning of big-league action.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Josh

I didn’t know Musgrove’s is the first no hitter by any Padres pitcher – that’s a cool piece of trivia.