LGT Community Projections: Justin Masterson

Justin Masterson - Mike Stobe

Now onto phase two of the projections. Over the next five days, we'll be covering the five pitchers in the rotation. I have a feeling that these projections won't be quite as optimistic as the hitters...

Like with the position players, I'm keeping the statistics simple, using measures that you can either figure with one or zero calculations:

  • Innings Pitched (IP). Self-explanatory. A pitcher who gives up few runs but only goes 5 or six innings will over the course of a season end up hurting his club because the bullpen will get overused. Justin Masterson led the Indians with 206.1 innings, and Justin Verlander led the American League with 238.1 innings pitched.
  • Starts. How often a pitcher takes his turn in the rotation is important as well. If a starter misses a start due to injury or ineffectiveness he forces his club to go with their sixth or worse starter on their depth chart. While have a good starter "bench" can help a club to mitigate missed starts, a starter making all his scheduled starts is the preferred outcome. However, keep in mind that over the course of a season, one of the "bench" starters may become better a better option than one of the starters in the rotations, so please keep this in mind as well. Justin Masterson led the Indians in starts with 34, which tied for the AL lead. Normally a starter making all his starts should make 32 or 33 depending on how the schedule plays out.

Dividing Innings by Starts will give you the average innings per start. Justin Verlander averaged 7.1* innings per start.

*For purposes of baseball statistics 0.1 inning equals one-third of an inning, and 0.2 inning equals two-thirds of an inning.

  • Earned Run Average (ERA). Initially I thought just plain Runs Average should be used, but ERA is such ubiquitous that you can't avoid it. The ERA calculation is 9*(ER/IP). Innings Pitched has already been taken care of above, so the only new projection will be the Earned Runs. David Price led the AL with a 2.56 ERA, while Zach McAllister led the Indians starters with a 4.24 ERA.
  • Hits/9 Innings. Just as the title says. The more runs a pitcher gives up, the more difficult it will be to maintain a low ERA. Sometimes this measure is more of a forward-looking stat than a descriptive stat, as a pitcher's ERA could be higher or lower than the H/9 (or SO/9 or BB/9), but for this purpose please assume that the ERA and H/SO/BB ratios will "make sense" together. Jared Weaver led the AL with 7.012 H/9 Innings last season, and Justin Masterson led the Indians starters with 9.2 H/9
  • Strikeouts/9 Innings. If a pitcher can strike out batters, then he can avoid relying on the balls put in playing finding a hole or bouncing off a glove. Max Scherzer struck out 11.078 batters per 9 innings; Zach McAllister led the Cleveland rotation with 7.9 SO/9.
  • Walks/9 Innings. As bad for a pitcher as strikeouts were good for him. Scott Diamond led the AL with 1.613 BB/9. Josh Tomlin led Cleveland starters with 2.2 BB/9.

We're starting with Justin Masterson, who while he wasn't the team's best starter in 2012, will be starting Opening Day for the Indians because of his track record

Background

Justin until his junior season in high school was a catcher, but a growth spurt (eight inches) moved him from behind the plate to the mound. He started his collegiate career in Bethel, a NAIA school, and transferred to San Diego State before his junior season. Almost unknown until his 2005 Cape Cod League showing, Masterson became a key draft prospect after both starring in that summer league and his showing with San Diego State. At the time his future role seemed to be as a durable reliever, and that's what the Red Sox thought as well when they drafted him in the second round in 2006. But even though Boston envisioned Masterson as a late-inning reliever (though an unconventional one), he was a starter through much of the early minors, as is usually the case for future relievers.

By the end of his second pro season, Masterson had reached AA, still starting. He was rated the number #4 prospect in the Boston organization and #67 overall by Baseball American going into the 2008 season thanks to his sinker/slider combination. What Masterson had going for him that placed above other relief prospects was his delivery angle (three-quarters) and his size, both of which combined to dominate right-handed hitters. The weakness, though to that type of delivery is that it's easy for left-handers to pick up.

Boston brought him up in 2008 to serve as a key swingman, making 9 starts and later serving as a setup man in the bullpen. When the Indians were looking to deal Victor Martinez at the 2009 trade deadline, Masterson was one of their key targets, as they saw him as a starter.

Masterson's first full season in Cleveland was difficult, and at several points it would have been easy to move him back to the bullpen, where he undoubtedly would have been valuable. But the Indians kept Masterson in the rotation, partly because they didn't have many other options, and also because they saw the potential for Justin to be at the very least a nice innings-eater in the middle of good rotation.

The Indians were rewarded in 2011 when Masterson posted a 3.21 ERA (122 ERA+) and throwing 216 innings in the process. He was one of the main reasons the Indians were in contention down the stretch in 2011. He still had massive splits between right and left-handed hitters, but he was just good enough against left-handers to have success in the rotation. He also kept the ball in the yard, especially when he was throwing his sinker: only 2.7% of fly balls hit off Masterson's sinker went over the fence in 2011.

But last season, he couldn't control left-handers (they hit .299/.378/.425 against him), and allowed more home runs off his sinker (or in other words, he was "hanging" more of them). Those two things, not stuff or velocity or ground-ball percentage, were the root causes of his bad 2012 season. He still threw over 200 innings and made all his starts, so he helped the Indians just by being there during a season in which the Indians used 10 starting pitchers.


So the question for Masterson is whether he can hold left-handed hitters to a manageable OPS; I don't think he'll ever dominate them, but the goal is to limit the damage they inflict on him in a start. He has the potential to be a nice middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, a pitcher that is extremely valuable to any pitching staff because of his durability, but if he's heading Cleveland's rotation by this time next year, none of the high-upside guys (such as Carlos Carrasco or Trevor Bauer stepped up).

Historical Stats

Year Age Tm ERA GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ H/9 BB/9 SO/9
2008 23 BOS 3.16 9 88.1 68 31 10 40 68 147 6.9 4.1 6.9
2009 24 TOT 4.52 16 129.1 128 65 12 60 119 99 8.9 4.2 8.3
2009 24 BOS 4.50 6 72.0 72 36 7 25 67 104 9.0 3.1 8.4
2009 24 CLE 4.55 10 57.1 56 29 5 35 52 94 8.8 5.5 8.2
2010 25 CLE 4.70 29 180.0 197 94 14 73 140 84 9.9 3.7 7.0
2011 26 CLE 3.21 33 216.0 211 77 11 65 158 122 8.8 2.7 6.6
2012 27 CLE 4.93 34 206.1 212 113 18 88 159 79 9.2 3.8 6.9
5 Yrs 4.17 121 820.0 816 380 65 326 644 98 9.0 3.6 7.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/29/2013.

Projections

ZiPS:

ZiPS Projection
Innings
193.1
Starts
31
ERA
4.33
H/9
9.2
SO/9 6.8
BB/9 3.3

This splits the difference between 2011 and 2012, which seems reasonable. I don't think Masterson's 2012 season represented an clear career trend; he didn't lose anything off his fastball or get injured, things that would have made regaining his past success hard to do.

Cairo:

Cairo Projection
Innings
196.0
Starts
31
ERA
4.14
H/9
9.0
SO/9 6.6
BB/9 3.4

Cairo is more bullish than ZiPS, though his innings and peripherals are very similar.

My projection:

Ryan's Projection
Innings
207.0
Starts
33
ERA
4.40
H/9
9.1
SO/9 6.4
BB/9 3.0

Not exactly ace numbers, but better than last year. Again, Masterson is very capable of being a good innings-eater, and hopefully by the end of the season a couple pitchers will have stepped up to the point where Masterson is #2/#3 on this staff.

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