Neal Musser Struggled In The First Three Innings
"Splitsville" is a series of articles on the Mets' prospects that we'll be doing throughout their minor league careers. In version one/chapter one (v1.1) of Neal Musser, we'll look at how he did at home versus the road, how he pitched with runners in scoring position, and more.
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Six-Year Free Agent: Southpaw Neal Musser was drafted by the Mets in the 2nd round of the 1999 MLB Draft out of Benton Central High School in Indiana. Musser, who had entered the 2005 season with a career 3.51 ERA, had his worst season as pro this past year. He went 6-11 with a 5.02 ERA for the AAA-Norfolk Tides, giving him a career 5.30 ERA at the minor league's highest level. Musser is a six-year free agent this offseason and it remains to be seen if he'll be brought back in 2006.
Slow Starts: A major reason for Musser's struggles in 2005 was his remarkably slow starts to each of his games. He continually put himself and the Norfolk Tides in quick holes this past season. Musser's first inning ERA in 2005 was 7.13 and as bad as that was, his 9.00 third inning ERA was even worse. In fact, almost 70% of all his earned runs this past season came within the first three innings of his starts this past season, a number that makes it hard to keep battling back from all the time.
Bad Out Of The Gate: While Neal Musser had rough beginnings to each of his starts this past season, he also struggled right out of Spring Training to begin his 2005 season. He went just 1-2 with a 6.08 ERA in his first six starts for Norfolk as the Tides were able to get him out of trouble continually with a good offense early in the year.
After it appeared Musser had finally turned a corner in his following six starts - posting a 3.34 ERA during that time - he fell back into bad habits. Musser promptly went 1-5 in his next six starts, posting a 7.58 ERA. His 2005 roller coaster season finished a high note however as he went 3-2 with a 3.58 ERA in his final six starts of the season.
Opposing International League batters began the season knocking Musser around to the tune of a .336 batting average in his first six starts, forcing him to make adjustments all season long. His up and down year showed great inconsistencies on the mound, a trait not expected from a pitcher of his experience.
Better Against Lefties: The left-handed Musser pitched better against left-handed hitters in 2005, but not much better. While it is true that lefties hit just .234 against him while opposing right-handed batters hit .302 against him, in the end his ERA's against the two sets of pitchers was negligible at best.
Musser's ERA stood at 5.21 against right-handed batters this past season and it only dipped down to 4.45 against lefties. But the difference in extra-base hits was quite considerable, giving the impression that Musser could be utilized as a situational pitcher out of the bullpen perhaps. Opposing left-handed batters collected extra-base hits in just 15.2% of his hits allowed against them while right-handed batters knocked 28.1% of their hits against Musser for extra bases.
Harbor Home: Musser's home versus road splits weren't very pronounced with the Norfolk Tides this past season, which wasn't all too shocking for a pitcher of his experience. His road ERA (5.40) was almost a full run better than his ERA at Harbor Park (4.58), home of the Norfolk Tides.
While opposing batters did manage to hit 13 points higher off of him at home, Musser allowed twice as many home runs on the road and his walk ratio on the road (4.19 walks per nine innings) was higher than it was at home (3.31 walks per nine innings). Throw in the fact that six of his seven wild pitches came on the road, it appears Musser did lose focus away from home.
A Positive Sign: While the majority of Musser's splits leave little to be desired in 2005, the fact was that Musser actually pitched better in clutch situations. Opposing batters hit .291 off of Musser with the bases empty and his average with runners on base dipped down slightly to .282 overall.
But with runners in scoring position, opponents enjoyed far less success against Musser. They hit just .248 against him with runners in scoring position, arguably too high a number for a starting pitcher of his talent, but Musser dropped the hammer with runners in scoring position and with two outs, limiting them to a .190 batting average in those situations this past season.
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