Astros’ Joe Musgrove is not fooling hitters at the moment

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Apr 6, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Joe Musgrove (59) reacts after giving up a home run during the third inning to Seattle Mariners right fielder Mitch Haniger (not pictured) at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 6, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Joe Musgrove (59) reacts after giving up a home run during the third inning to Seattle Mariners right fielder Mitch Haniger (not pictured) at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /
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Astros young starter Musgrove still has a lot to learn as a starting pitcher in the major leagues.

After winning the No. 5 spot in the Astros rotation after good performances at the end of the 2016 season as well as a spectacular Spring Training. Right-handed starter Joe Musgrove has come back down to earth a bit in his first three starts.

In 2017, Musgrove has become much more hittable, allowing an average of 11.7 hits per nine innings with a .323 batting average against in his first three starts. After allowing a BABIP of .250 in his first start of the season, he has given up 15 hits in 10.1 innings pitched in his last two starts, allowing opposing hitters to have a BABIP over .365.

A look at how Musgrove is pitching.

A lot of this has to do with Musgrove’s lack of overpowering stuff on the mound. 75.6 percent of the time, the big right-hander relies on either a low-nineties four-seam fastball or a slider that averages at about 83 mph.

With a swinging strike percentage at 6.9 percent, three percentage points lower than last season; Musgrove is allowing batters to make contact 86 percent of the time. To put that in perspective, left-handed starter Dallas Keuchel, who has a ground ball percentage at 73.1 percent, has batters swing and miss 10.4 percent of the time and only allows a contact percentage of 76.2 percent.

In summary, opposing batters are not fooled with what Musgrove is throwing them. That was the main struggle in his last start against the Angles on April 18. He ended up giving up five earned runs on eight hits in five innings of work.

If his last start showed anything to Astros fans, it was Musgrove’s problem with pitch efficiency. Although his walk total is down, giving up only two walks in his last two starts. Musgrove has shown that he struggles to put away hitters even with two strikes.

A look at last night’s start.

The fifth inning of his April 18th start is a perfect example. To start the inning, Musgrove threw two quick strikes to Angles catcher Martin Maldonado. Then, after fouling off a slider and a sinker, Maldonado pulled an 80 mph curveball inside passed the third baseman Marwin Gonzalez for a base hit.

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Later in the inning, Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun struck out for the first out of the inning with runners on first and second. However, that was not before battling Musgrove with an 11 pitch at bat, making contact foul on seven of the 11 pitches. Clearly tired after that at bat, Musgrove allowed a RBI double to Mike Trout and a three-run home run to Albert Pujols in the next two at-bats.

However, there are some things to be encouraged about with Musgrove so far in 2017. He is using his sinker more this season than last, throwing it 12 percent of the time. With that, his ground ball rate has increased 6.6 percent.

A look ahead.

If Musgrove wants to stay in his role as the fifth starter once Collin McHugh comes back from his elbow injury, he is going to have to embrace the contact. This means that Musgrove needs to continue to use the sinker to generate more ground balls. Also, not trying to get hitters to chase on strike two. On that same Calhoun strikeout in the fifth inning, Musgrove was up 1-2 and threw three straight breaking balls, a curveball in the dirt and two sliders, which were fouled off.

Next: Astros did not let Brad Peacock get away

Musgrove is still learning how to start at the major league level. However, with the Astros in first place in the AL West and high expectations. The 24-year-old is going to have to become consistent at the back-end of the rotation.

***Stats from Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and MLB.com***

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