Contemplating Masterson

Jeanmar Gomez makes his 2nd Career start Sunday... maybe the Tribe should give him Masterson's rotation spot

One of the biggest question marks that the Cleveland Indians have on their 25 man roster, is the role of Justin Masterson. The Indians acquired the starter/reliever hybrid from the Boston Red Sox in last summer’s un-popular Victor Martinez trade. At the time it was unclear where what his role would be in the organization but all the team knew was that they were going to try to stretch him out to be a starter. In 31 total starts, 21 coming this season, Masterson really has not accomplished anything to inspire confidence in his abilities as a starting pitcher. However, due to lack of major league quality depth in the area, he has continued to be trotted out there every 5th day. Well, times-are-changing in Wahoo Land and it might be time for Manny Acta and Mark Shapiro to re-evaluate where they use Masterson. He proved in his time in Boston to be a capable relief pitcher, good in the long-relief role as well as in shorter stints. His funky delivery and hard slider project well to bullpen work. I know I am not the only one who follows the Tribe that would love to see Masterson sent to fortify the bullpen in order to allow the young promising arms of Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Rondon and even Carlos Carrasco to take over the starting rotation for the remainder of this season.

If Masterson’s record of 3-10 is not the biggest red-flag. You can’t blame the pitcher on a struggling team for his win-loss record completely, but if you look at just about everything else, you see he is not really taking to this starting thing all to well. His ERA of 5.55 is very high, and while he leads the team with 97 strike outs, well that is no real accomplishment because the Indians do not have any other strikeout oriented starting pitchers. Masterson has notched 123.1 innings pitched this season in his 21 starts, which is an average of just under 6 innings per game. That would be great, except for the fact that he is giving up 6 runs a game. However, if you take his K/BB rate of 1.83 this season is pretty solid, and he is averaging 7.1 K/9 innings. With his ability to strike guys out, especially right handed batters, why not make the switch to the pen. At 25 years old and in his 4th season, it seems like it would be beneficial to him for the Indians to pick a roll for him and stick with it, lets hope they pick the bullpen. I am not really a advanced stats expert, so I am not going to try and really dissect a lot of those things, but just purely based off opinion and interpretation of what I see him doing, it makes the most sense for him to be a short-relief man. If the Indians were to try and use him against chunks of opponent lineups with right handed batters late in the games, it would give them a good shut-down late inning option. What has really killed Masterson this year is left handed batters. He can just not get them out. Over and over again it happens.

It might be time for the team to consider Masterson as a reliever

Honestly, just about the first thing I do every time I start a dynasty with the Indians in MLB 2K10 is make Masterson a reliever and trade for another starter, and it always works out well. Even the video game is smarter than the Indians. His 6’6″ frame and wild delivery with heavy fastball/sinker/slider combo would really translate well to the Indians bullpen that lacks power by any one who is not named Chris Perez. Bullpens should not be built around sub-par soft tossers like Jensen Lewis, they need upper 90’s guys like Perez, Frank Hermann and Justin Masterson. If the Indians would go to a 7th/8th innings combo of Masterson, Hermann and Raffy Perez for the lefties they would be a solid bridge to Chris Perez. I will leave it up to the smarter people to explain this for the more advanced stats inclined, all I really want to do is open up the discussion about where Masterson should be. Maybe the Indians can let him try and convince them he is a starter the rest of this year, or in Spring Training next year, but I would rather see Rondon, Gomez and Carrasco working the rotation the rest of the way with Tomlin and Carmona. Masterson has had 31 starts to show us his stuff, almost all of them have gone poorly. He is 4-17 as an Indian, out of relief and starting. So unless they want to give him back to Boston, I say let him return to where he had success before out of the ‘pen. Switching J-Mast is definitely an option the Indians should consider, especially with the way this season is headed, in order to get some of the guys from AAA up in the rotation to see how they can potentially help the team moving forward. And hey, if they do move Masterson and he pitches well out of the ‘pen, that gives the team a big positive moving forward as well.

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7 Responses to Contemplating Masterson

  1. Pingback: While We’re Waiting… “Antsy” Holmgren, Shaquille O’Bieber, and MLB Trade Deadline | WaitingForNextYear

  2. Tommy says:

    You think Masterson should be moved to the bullpen in favor of Rondon? The guy who hasn’t pitched for Columbus since May 12th? And had an ERA of 8.53 in 7 starts for them before he went down with injury? And you cite MLB2k10 as evidence that he would work better in the bullpen? Give me a break.

    The “advanced stats” show that Masterson has performed way better than his ERA or W-L record shows. In fact, W-L record should not even be mentioned in the evaluation of a pitcher. And the “advanced stats” also show that a pitcher impacts a team much greater as a starter than a reliever, therefore there is almost no question that you should have your best pitchers starting, and there is also no question that Masterson is one of our best pitchers.

    Be patient with him… most young pitchers are horribly inconsistent. We also have quite a few “power arms” that you desire for our bullpen rising through the minors. The bullpen should be the last resort for Justin Masterson.

    • Zach says:

      The point about MLB2K10 was merely a bad attempt at humor so forgive me for that buddy.

      As for Masterson, if you look at what he did in Boston as a reliever he was much more effective, and was effective in that role when we first traded for him. I know win-loss record is an overrated statistic, because no matter how well you pitch you can still lose games when the offense sucks. It is just my opinion that with his kind of stuff and his build he might be a much better option in the 8th inning then the on-again-off-again 4A relievers we have on the team. Sure Raffy Perez and Joe smith are doing good now, but will that really last that much longer? I highly doubt that.
      You also have to consider that masterson really only throws 2 pitches. A sinking fastball and a slider, and usually that does not work in favor of starting pitchers who can’t get lefties out.

  3. Adam says:

    Rumor has it, Masterson is coming close to his innings limit for the year. He’ll probably be shut down in time for September call-ups, leaving room for the Clippers aces to test their wears.

  4. Tommy says:

    @Zach

    I am not questioning your opinion that Masterson would be a very good late inning option out of the bullpen, and most definitely better than almost anyone else in the bullpen (C. Perez?) My argument is that he would contribute to more Indian wins over the course of a season as a starter, than a reliever. Even if his numbers took a slight hit when getting the starts. There is a reason that the best pitchers in baseball are starters and not relievers.

    I actually don’t agree with your assessment that he performed better as a reliever for the Red Sox. Yes, his ERA was better than it currently is, but I believe that was mostly due to many things outside of his control. This year, he has very similar K rate, BB rate, and much higher GB rate than in his time with the Red Sox. However, the Red Sox had a much better defense behind him, the pitchers who pitched after him stranded many more of his runners left on base, and he was much more lucky in general with balls in play.

    I agree with you that he could definitely use more than just 2 pitches, especially as a starter, however the stats do show that his change up has been much more effective this year than in the past, even though he has thrown it at virtually the same meager rates. The trick may be to get him to expand on his usage of the pitch and see if the results stay improved.

    Most importantly, Masterson has probably the highest ceiling of anyone that is ready to be in our rotation at this point, and in a season like we are in, there is no reason to be pushing him aside to take a look at other less promising prospects. Tomlin and Gomez are already here and there is still another spot TBD while Talbot is on the dl, so there will be plenty of opportunity as it is. Having the ability to give guys like Masterson time to mature at the big league level may be one of the few advantages we have at our disposal over the big market teams that are under constant pressure to win every game.

  5. Zach says:

    @Tommy

    Good points man, I definitely see where you are coming from. I guess I am more of the school of thought that I think the team should have a potentially shut-down combo of Masterson and Chris Perez in the 8th and 9th innings and let the rest work itself out from there.
    I am definitely happy to see him in the rotation and providing us with 6 innings of decent pitching every game while he matures and becomes a better pitcher. I agree with you that I think he has the highest ceiling of rotation-ready guys, I also think he has the highest ceiling of any pitcher on the team no matter what role he finds himself in. I love that he is so versatile – it could really come in handy if we ever make the playoffs again. Thanks for commenting, the purpose of the post was to get some discussion.. We appreciate the readership.

    • Tommy says:

      I too would love to see a back of the bullpen with shut down ability. I actually think we will have that in the next few years. I am excited to see what some of our minor leaguers have to offer, because we have some hard throwers doing very well in bullpen roles down there. They also just moved Hagadone to the bullpen, so we’ll see if that helps his track to the big club.

      But I’m just trying to guard against us overcompensating for what has been one of the worst parts of the team over the last half decade (Not like I have a say in the matter anyways ha). It’s very easy to watch us blow lead after lead with a crappy bullpen over the years and conclude that we need to do anything we can to solve that problem, but I just think it would be a major mistake to do it at the expense of our rotation.

      Always happy to talk Tribe. Thanks for the discussion.

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