Justin Masterson has been a mess this season, with a few great performances, but mostly mediocre (or worse ones). There's been a pattern to his success, though it is surely a complete coincidence: In his first start of each calendar month he has gone 7+ innings without allowing any runs. In each of his 12 other starts, he's allowed at least a couple runs, and has gone 7+ innings only once. I guess we've got the first week of July to look forward to, but Masterson's over performance this year leaves a lot to be desired, as he has the peripherals of a slightly below average starting pitcher, not the very good pitcher he was a year ago, the one some Tribe fans hoped to see given a 5-year, $80 million extension.
A drop in velocity is one part of the problem, as his pitches are all 2-3 MPH slower than they were last year (and throughout the rest of his career). That's a situation I examined in detail last month, and it has not changed since then.
Whether his other problems spawn from that drop in velocity or not, another problem he's having is walking batters. He's never had excellent control, but prior to this year it was decent. So far this season though, he's walking 4.72 batters per 9 innings. Among 96 qualified pitchers, that's second-worst in all of MLB (ahead of only Ubaldo Jimenez, who's gone back to being awful this season).
Masterson has also already hit 8 batters, putting him on pace for 19 HBP by the end of the season, which would be tied for the most any pitcher has hit in a season over the last decade, and would set an Indians franchise record. That record is currently 17, and is held by... Justin Masterson, who set it last season.
An Indians pitcher has hit 10+ batters in a season only seven times, and four of those seasons belong to Masterson (and he's two more plunked batters from having 5 of 8).
Masterson's first full season with the Indians was 2010. Since the start of that season, Masterson has hit 60 batters, which easily places him atop the MLB leader board.
Most HBP (2010-2014):
- 1. Justin Masterson - 60
- t2. A.J. Burnett - 52
- t2. Charlie Morton - 52
- 4. Jeremy Guthrie - 50
- 5. Ian Kennedy - 47
Including his time with the Red Sox, Masterson has hit 76 batters since his career began in 2008, which is the highest total during that time frame.
Now, Masterson has been a workhorse, so you might be thinking all those hit batters are somewhat a matter of him just having thrown so many innings. That's not the case though. We can look at hit batters per inning pitched, and see that Masterson is still elite. There are 100 active pitchers with 800+ career innings, which makes for a nice round total.
HBP per IP among all active pitchers (min. 800 IP):
- 1. Jamey Wright - 0.0760
- 2. Justin Masterson - 0.0694
- 3. Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona) - 0.0659
- 4. Ryan Vogelsong - 0.0611
- 5. Johnny Cueto - 0.0609
Now unless Masterson signs an extension for at least another couple seasons with the Indians, he's not going to reach the franchise record for hit batters, which is 95, held by George Uhle. (Uhle came in at #46 on our countdown of the 100 greatest players in franchise history.) Masterson already has 62 with the Indians, and is #2 on that list, despite not yet having been on the team for five full years. (Bob Feller, Fausto Carmona, and Mel Harder fill out the top five).
If you look at things on a per-inning basis again though, Masterson easily comes out on top. Among the top pitchers in team history for innings pitched (all of whom pitched at least 412 innings for the Tribe), here are the leaders...
HBP per IP in Indians franchise history:
- 1. Justin Masterson - 0.0663
- 2. Fausto Carmona - 0.0622
- 3. Otto Hess - 0.0605
- 4. Jim Kern - 0.0520
- 5. George Kahler - 0.0510
Hitting batters doesn't really mean all that much. Even someone like Masterson, with such a high rate, is still only hitting one every 2 or 3 starts, and other than the occasional retaliation or bench-clearing brawl, an HBP is basically the same as just another walk. Still, I think it's interesting to see just how frequently Masterson has hit guys.
Whatever team he's playing for beyond this season, Masterson has a chance to one day become only the 10th pitcher since the end of the Dead Ball Era to hit 150 batters in his career.
Something to aim for.