Justin Masterson was a difference maker in 2013. There were some mixed leagues where he may not have even been drafted given a terribly disappointing 2012. Even if you did draft Justin you you likely didn’t have to call out his name until the rounds hit the drinking age (the legal drinking age silly which would be 21 not 16 because that’s when your degenerate self started pulling back on 40′s). When you take a pitcher that late, and you get a season like he produced, you can win championships. Let’s quickly detail how well he preformed before breaking down his performance.
So let’s put it all together. How many hurlers won 14 games, had an ERA under 3.50, a WHIP of 1.20 or better and 195 or more Ks? The answer is six – Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Adam Wainwright, Anibal Sanchez and Masterson.
Yeah, it was a pretty good year.
We have an interesting situation with this righty. In 2013 Masterson was very, very good. In 2011 he was very good (12 wins, 3.21 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 158 Ks). In 2012 he was very, very bad (11 wins, 4.93 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 159 Ks). Who will Masterson be in 2014?
Masterson is stable. He’s thrown at least 180-innings in each of the past four seasons. The past four years he’s averaged 199 innings pitched a season and his total of 795.1 innings is 24th best in baseball. Don’t worry about the late season health issue he had in 2013.
What you can worry about is his K-rate. Look, you just don’t see what Masterson did happen. From 2008-12, over 820 innings of big league hurling, Masterson had a K/9 rate of 7.07 (a rate that was one tenth better than the league average). In those five seasons only once did he have a rate over 7.00. Once in five years. Pitchers don’t strike out 7.1 batters per nine innings, over five years years and more than 800 innings, and then jack up their rate by two full batters. However, that’s what Masterson did as his 2013 K/9 rate was, get this, 9.09. His 2013 K/9 mark was fully two batters above his rate enter the season. Like I said, you just don’t see that happen.
How did he do it? Some guesses.
First, he threw his fastball less than at any point over the last four years. His 73.3 percent fastball rate was five percentage points below the lowest mark he had the previous three seasons. Mind you he only has two pitches, he throws his change up about once a month, so he ended up relying way more on his slider than every before. From 2010-12 he threw his slider 18.5, 14.9 and 19.3 percent of the time. In 2013 that number was 26.6 percent. Clearly that was part of the reason for the increase in punchouts. It also helped that batters chased balls more than they had previously – likely another result of the slider. Masterson had a 61.4 percent contact rate on swings by batters on balls outside the strike zone, and that’s about six percentage points where the number was at in 2011-12. Moreover, after a mark of nearly 83 percent in 2011-12 in the contact mark for batters on all swings taken that mark fell to 78.6 percent in ’13.
Let’s say his slider really did go to another level last season, and that he trusted it more than ever before. Does that really speak to a two batter increase in his K rate? Can he continue to be a K per inning arm in 2014? Pretty sure you can tell by my writeup thus far that I’m highly dubious he will be able to do that. In fact, I’d wager that he will at least give back half of the increase he saw last season over his career 7.1 K/9 mark entering 2013.
As for the rest of his game…
His ERA was 3.45. In the other four seasons in which he threw at least 125 innings only once was his ERA in the 3′s. For his career the mark is 4.03, worse than the league average.
His WHIP of 1.20 was just the second time in five seasons of at least 125 innings that he posted a mark below 1.45 (read that again). His career mark is 1.36, worse than the league average.
He walked 3.54 batters per nine innings, three hundredths above his career rate. It’s also a half batter above the big league average of 2013 (3.02).
His HR/9 mark was 0.61. His career mark is 0.69. This is a strong level.
His HR/F mark was 10.7 percent. His career mark is 10.0 percent, right on the league average.
Why such a low mark in the homer category? Masterson keeps the ball down in the zone – batters just cannot lift his diving offerings. Last season was the 6th time in six years that his ground ball rate was at least 54.3 percent, and his 58 percent mark was the second best of his career. The result was a 2.40 GB/FB ratio, just one hundredth off his career best mark from 2010. There aren’t many out there who are starting pitchers who can approach that level of groundball-ness. In fact, no one did in 2013 as his 58 percent mark led baseball as did his 2.40 GB/FB. Mind you his career marks are 2.15 and 56.4 percent.
His BABIP was .285. That was his lowest mark in five years and the first time the mark was under .300.
So in the end what do we have in Masterson?
1 – We have a very durable arm.
2 – We have a guy who was career average in BB/9, HR/9, HR/F in 2013.
3 – We have a guy who set career bests in wins, WHIP, K/9, K/BB and BABIP in 2013.
Can he repeat his 2013 effort in 2014? Can’t see how he can. The ERA and WHIP will likely inch upward even if he pitches relatively similarly. His GB/FB will likely dip a bit. His BABIP will likely increase a bit. As I’ve noted, I believe his K/9 rate will regress. What that all means is certainly no death blow to Masterson. I say it all the time – you give me a strikeout arm who also keeps the ball on the ground and that guy has a spot in my team. My real concern here is my belief that Masterson is incapable of continuing to dominate batters with the whiff like he did in 2014. He’ll likely cost too much for me in the majority of leagues next season, but as long as you don’t overpay you will be rostering a durable arm that should keep his team in games more often than not.
By Ray Flowers