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The game within the game: Game 3 - Joe Musgrove against the Phillies’ eye levels

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MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Each game of this National League Championship Series, we’re going to take a microlevel look at an intriguing matchup of the day.

Today’s matchup:

Joe Musgrove is very good. When discussing the top pitchers in the game, Musgrove is almost never mentioned, though maybe he should be. It could be a bit of recency bias, his last few starts lingering on our minds as opposed to a season’s worth of work, but going back to see how he has fared, well, the numbers are quite good.

2021: 30 GS, 181 IP, 184/42 K/BB, 2.93 ERA (3.59 FIP)

He’s not a big name strikeout pitcher, his strikeout rate of 24.9% hovering right in that league average zone, so he relies on his defense to help him out a good deal. The Padres’ move from Fernando Tatis, Jr. to Ha-Seong Kim at shortstop has been a good boost for Musgrove specifically, which has led to his having a stellar year.

Looking at his arsenal, he likes to keep hitters guessing.

That’s about as even a pitch distribution as you’re going to find on a pitcher. He’s favors his slider and four-seam fastball the most, but the difference between those two and the next two is small enough that hitters cannot just discard pitches as they walk to the plate. They need to be ready for anything once they step in the box.

What’s going to be a test for the Phillies is the eye level at which Musgrove lives. You can see from the heat maps that the breaking pitches (slider, curveball) that the main goal is the keep those pitches down in the zone, using the spin he gets on them to keep the pitches down.

In turn, he’ll use the four-seam fastball up in the zone to keep the hitters’ eye levels off balance. It’s the newer school of thought when it comes to pitching, high in the zone fastballs followed by sharp, high spin breaking pitches down in the zone. Musgrove has taken that philosophy and run with it, becoming one of the better pitchers in the National League.

The Phillies will have to make sure that when they are swinging at pitches, they’ll have to gameplan for what Musgrove is likely gameplanning. It’ll be an interesting matchup in this game.