Marin's approach paying off for Musgrove, Bucs

February 11th, 2020

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Oscar Marin has a background in biomechanics and an appreciation for analytics. He can dissect pitchers’ deliveries on the mound, then sit in front of a computer and study Rapsodo data from their bullpen sessions.

Pitchers and catchers workouts begin on Wednesday, and the Pirates are already finding value in Marin’s wide-ranging skillset, his ability to utilize modern pitching technology and his aptitude for transforming potentially complicated data into useful information for Pittsburgh’s pitching staff.

“Having a pitching coach that can work with the mechanical/delivery side of it, then also be able to break down the numbers and tell you where you need to improve and how we can improve is really big,” starter said. “It makes it one line of communication through the same guy, as opposed to having to go through four different guys to get one answer.”

As soon as he accepted the Pirates’ job offer in December, Marin began breaking down video and information on their pitchers so he would know what to expect when Spring Training started. Pittsburgh’s staff wildly underperformed as a whole last year, recording a 5.18 ERA that ranked 26th in the Majors, but Marin couldn’t quite align those results with what he watched.

“I love the way our guys move. I love their stuff,” Marin said recently. “It doesn’t square to me. The one thing I do see is the talent that we do have. I’m really excited to work with this group.”

The Pirates are equally excited to work with the 37-year-old Marin. Last Friday, Musgrove said, he threw a bullpen session in front of Marin at Pirate City and then sat down to review the information produced by tracking technology like Rapsodo and TrackMan. After reviewing video and data with Marin, Musgrove said, “I feel like I immediately have a better idea of what everything means.”

High-speed cameras and pitch-tracking tools were available last spring, but Musgrove admitted at PiratesFest that the club “didn’t have good clarity on what we were trying to accomplish with some of that stuff.” With Marin, they will.

“This year, our toolbelt is kind of in the open and it’s on the player to use that,” starter said. “If you want to use this technology, it’s available. If you want to get with me and do dry work on the mound and work on your delivery, it’s available. Everything’s available and out in the open, really, for us to decide.”

It might be easy to scoff at the notion that Pittsburgh’s starting pitchers, the same group from last season, will improve through technology and analytics. But Musgrove is proof that it can work. He decided to dig into his numbers and video late last season with bullpen coach Justin Meccage and Major League advance coordinator Aaron Razum, asking them to analyze him like they were opposing hitters. The data-driven research led Musgrove to shorten his arm action and gave him a better sense of how to induce whiffs, ground balls and soft contact.

In four starts after that, Musgrove posted a 2.86 ERA with 26 strikeouts and five walks in 22 innings while holding opponents to a .247 average and .663 OPS.

“I think there’s a lot of things we can use in it without losing the ability to compete and go pitch,” Musgrove said. “I looked a lot at the productivity of my pitches, the places that I thought were my best pitches and my safest spots. In reality, the productivity that you get out of those pitches is not what I thought it was.”

Starter said he’s “already had conversations with Oscar that I never had, even with other teams I’ve been on.” The concepts they discuss might be advanced in some ways, but Archer said everyone in the organization -- from general manager Ben Cherington all the way down -- has emphasized the importance of understanding what pitchers do well, rather than focusing on their weaknesses, in order to maximize their potential.

“You watch the best pitchers in the game, and they just know themselves,” Archer said. “I feel like they're really big on you understanding that, removing the hitter and just understanding what works for you."

That ties into something Marin said last month, succinctly summarizing the pitching philosophy he’s looking to instill in the Pirates this season.

“If you’re doing something well,” Marin said with a grin, “then you should do more of it.”