Houston Astros: Joe Musgrove needed to be sent down

May 26, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Joe Musgrove (59) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
May 26, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Joe Musgrove (59) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

The Houston Astros have sent Joe Musgrove down to the minors to work out some kinks as he’s had a somewhat inefficient season to put it mildly. While he has had the occasional quality start, a trip to the minors to adjust his approach to hitters could be just what the doctor ordered.

The Houston Astros are in a pennant hunt and at the moment, Joe Musgrove wasn’t helping their cause. This send down should help give him some breathing room to figure out a new way to attack hitters. He can treat it like a second spring training to just work on a new approach to his pitching style.

The biggest complaint about Musgrove, oddly enough, is that he throws too many strikes. In fact he’s 11th in the major leagues this year in percentage of pitches thrown for strikes, with 66.8 percent of his pitches being in the zone. That’s good for 11th in all of baseball this year and first amongst Astros starters. To give perspective on that, Lance McCullers Jr. is 43rd in the league at 63.5 percent of strikes thrown and Dallas Keuchel, the master of control, is 50th in the league at 63.1 percent.

While that definitely sounds like a good thing, it’s a problem if hitters know you attack the zone THAT consistently with no chase pitches in your pitch sequencing. It gives them the ability to only account for their timing and what type of pitch you’re throwing and not so much worrying about location.

Musgrove always has had great control and limited his walks throughout his professional career. But sometimes if the batter is fouling you off and timing you up with no fear of having to expand his zone, you need to start throwing some pitches out of the zone or in the dirt to make them think twice about being aggressive at the plate.

Even if you need to relent and give up a walk or two, that’s better than hitters getting consistent hard contact which is what has been leading to the big innings opponents have had off of Musgrove. He’s not giving the hitters enough different looks and they know to be aggressive against him because he pitches in the zone so much.

Dallas Keuchel pitches in the zone a great deal as well, but he is also the king of control which is why he can get away with it. His pitches are so perfectly placed all along the bottom of the zone. Musgrove hasn’t harnessed that type of ability yet, if he ever will.

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The upside is that someone with low velocity and pinpoint control is more of an asset than someone who can throw high 90’s heat but struggles with control. Pitchers like Keuchel, Greg Maddux or the ageless Jamie Moyer are pitchers that are great to have as aces because they’re efficient and can save the bullpen by going deeper into games pitching to contact, as opposed to the guys who rack up strikeouts but also rack up their pitch counts getting pulled in the fifth or sixth inning regularly as a result.

Musgrove has the potential to be a very high end starter if he can adjust the way Dallas Keuchel did. Remember that Keuchel had two abysmal seasons in 2012 and 2013 where he pitched to the tune of a 5.27 and 5.15 ERA respectively before having a breakthrough season in 2014 with a 2.73 ERA. And we all know how 2015 turned out as Keuchel won his first Cy Young award.

Guys with diminished velocity of course have an uphill battle to be effective in the major leagues as they have to be even more precise since they can’t just blow a fastball by anyone if they regularly pitch in the low 90’s. But if you are able to find the zone consistently, the next step is refining that precision and learning how to pitch to contact since you’re not going to get many guys out via the strikeout.

If Musgrove can figure out when to waste a pitch and how to make a Keuchel-like transformation of getting hitters to pound the ball into the ground, his ceiling is higher than what is currently projected for him of a low number three, high number four starter. Remember Keuchel wasn’t expected to become an ace at any point either, but when you have control it can overcome the physical shortcomings and lack of power stuff a pitcher’s arsenal may normally need.

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Musgrove should use this trip to the minors to refine his approach. Throw a few more chase pitches, keep the ball down in the zone. If he can do that, we may have another ace in the making. It all depends on if he can make the most of his time down in Fresno and make the proper adjustments to succeed in the big leagues.