Post, Post-Hype Sleeper: Will 2020 Finally Be The Year Joe Musgrove Emerges?

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Joe Musgrove has long been an intriguing sleeper selection, though various issues have helped to keep him from reaching his ceiling.  Prior to 2018 he was dubbed a sleeper, after being dealt to Pittsburgh…  Prior to 2019 he was dubbed a potential post-hype sleeper…  So why would we keep hopping on the train?  Is he truly a “Post, Post-Hype” Sleeper?

The answer is yes, as we ranked him as the 35th starting pitcher in our 2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide and included him on our Top 25 Sleepers.  A “4-Star” option, at the time we said:

He was a sleeper this time a year ago, but he obviously didn’t emerge with a 4.44 ERA over 170.1 IP.  However there’s more upside in his strikeout rate (8.30 K/9, despite a 12.0% SwStr% and 35.5% O-Swing%) and he showed elite control (2.06 BB/9), with poor luck (63.2% strand rate) being the issue.  He showed the improved strikeout stuff in the second half (9.42 K/9) and just a few minor adjustments could lead to the breakout campaign, just a year later than expected.

While we note the spike in strikeouts in the second half, what was the reason?  The key could’ve been an increase in the usage of his curveball, which clearly spiked over the final two months of 2020:

  • April – 4.45%
  • May – 6.67%
  • June – 10.96%
  • July – 6.46%
  • August – 13.07%
  • September – 16.92%

Just to further drive it home, from July 1-14 he threw his curveball 3.20% of the time compared to 7.57% for the second half of July.  So look at this breakdown for the season:

TimeframeK/9Curveball Usage
03/31/19 - 07/14/197.496.82%
07/15/19 - 09/26/199.4212.18%

That doesn’t seem like a coincidence, does it?  While his curveball isn’t his best swing and miss pitch, it clearly helps to keep opposing hitters off balance so the more he uses it the more upside of the results.

He’s always shown impressive control, with a career 2.09 BB/9.  While he’s not an elite groundball pitcher, he’s also shown a solid groundball rate (44.7%) and hasn’t been completely burned by long balls (1.18 career HR/9, 1.11 in ’18).  He also hasn’t been hit overly hard throughout his career (34.3% Hard%), so you can argue that all he needs is a little bit better luck (68.8% strand rate) to have strong results.

A 2.25 ERA in 16.0 IP in September isn’t a big sample size, but it’s enough to give you a sneak peek into what’s possible.  Regardless of if you want to call him a “Sleeper”, a “Post-Hype Sleeper” or a “Post, Post-Hype Sleeper”, he’s a must target for all.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings:

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PositionLast Updated
Catcher04/13/20
First Baseman--
Second Baseman04/15/20
Shortstop04/17/20
Third Baseman04/20/20
Outfield04/24/20
Pitcher--

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