Justin Masterson’s (Almost) All-Fastball Dominance

Lou Marson had a pretty easy eight innings catching Justin Masterson Tuesday night against the Minnesota Twins. Any catcher would gladly receive for a performance like Masterson’s — eight scoreless innings, bolstered by six strikeouts and only blemished by four hits and one walk. And it just may have been the single easiest game a catcher has ever called. 104 times Marson put a sign down with his right hand. 103 times it was the ol’ number one.

Yes, merely a day after Sam Miller wrote this piece wondering if a pitcher would ever throw an all-fastball start, Justin Masterson was one fourth-inning slider away from doing just that. All but one of Masterson’s pitches sat between 89.9 and 97.7 MPH, and as the results of his start suggest, they were mightily effective, carving up Twins batters to the tune of 10 swinging strikes on top of the shutout performance.

Overall, 10 swinging strikes in just over 100 pitches isn’t an overly impressive mark. It’s good — at 9.7%, it’s well over his season average of 7.7% and above the league average of 8.5% — but even if Masterson maintained that rate for the whole season, he still wouldn’t land in the top 25 qualified starting pitchers.

This is because the fastball is the least likely pitch to induce a swing and miss. It makes sense — whereas the curveball and changeup are often about deception and movement, the fastball is a “here it is, hit it” kind of pitch. The fastball is a pitch at its best when hitting a corner where it’s not even worth it to swing, and if contact is made, it’s weak. This notion is supported by the data — according to TexasLeaguers.com, the league-average whiff rate on fastballs is only 6.0%, well below the overall whiff rate of 8.5%.

Masterson has had an immensely successful season with Cleveland this year, posting a 2.64 ERA and a 2.89 FIP. The reason for his success, both in Tuesday’s start and the season-to-date, is clearly his fastball. He goes to the pitch 82% of the time, the highest of any starter in the league, and although it usually isn’t quite as dominant as it looked against Minnesota, a whiff rate of 7.0% (according to the aforementioned TexasLeaguers) with the fastball is impressive, especially when hitters know it’s coming.

Hitters make adjustments, and one would imagine we’ll see a few more sliders from Masterson in his starts down the line, if only by necessity. But his fastball is a very special pitch, capable of inducing the swings-and-misses and ground balls that aces are made of. Tuesday was the best exhibition of just how powerful that pitch is for Masterson, and maybe someday soon we’ll see him eschew that one slider and truly treat us to the all-fastball start. If anybody is capable, it’s him.



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JR
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JR
4 years 11 months ago

Marson behind the plate last night.

Sitting Curveball
Member
4 years 11 months ago

Interesting. I didn’t remember seeing Santana take off his mitt to put signs down.

Sitting Curveball
Member
4 years 11 months ago

Yea, it was Marson, too. Good call, JR.

steve
Guest
steve
4 years 11 months ago

hahaha

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 11 months ago

Yeah, very odd to unnecessarily specify the hand, and forget that every catcher ever wears a mitt on his left hand.

Telo
Guest
Telo
4 years 11 months ago

Hahaha… yeaaaap.

“104 times Santana** put a sign down with his left** hand. 103 times it was the ol’ number one**.”

** = Wrong.

Jim
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Jim
4 years 11 months ago

PitchFX has Masterson throwing 49 sinkers and 54 four-seamers; they show markedly different break on the plots. Only one breaking pitch is noteworthy, but let’s not pretend that the 103 were identical.

Telo
Guest
Telo
4 years 11 months ago

This is was my thought, too… Just because pitch FX spits them out as fastballs doesn’t mean they’re the same pitch. This article romanticizes the situation a bit.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 11 months ago

Now I’m genuinely curious whether Masterson’s (or other sinkerballers’) catchers use two different signs for four-seamer and two-seamer. Anyone ever notice?

Regardless of some of the oversights in the article, I do think the pitch selection last night was pretty noteworthy.

As an aside, I’ve always thought that Masterson couldn’t last as a starter unless he added a pitch or improved his changeup. His two primary pitches, the sinker and the slider, don’t work vs lefties. This season, he’s completely abandoned the changeup, yet has somehow had his first respectable season vs LHB’s.

Telo
Guest
Telo
4 years 11 months ago

I’d be shocked if any don’t. I’m certain that Beckett does (and this results in him shaking off Tek about 10000 times a game), and I know Lester calls for the cutter. As a catcher you absolutely have to know what’s coming to anticipate the pitch. It’s so blatantly obvious when a pitcher gets a sign wrong.

Barkey Walker
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Barkey Walker
4 years 11 months ago

@Yirmiyahu “don’t work vs lefties”

I hadn’t noticed this until you pointed it out. The Twins used to be lefty heavy–Morenau and Kubel used to play for the Twins. Mauer and Thome are the only two remaining and they did okay against Masterson with 2 walks (the only walks) and a hit between them.

Bill
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Bill
4 years 11 months ago

Yirmiyahu,

With most guys the universal signs are; a wiggled “one” for the sinker, and a stiff one for the four-seamer. But some guys (who predominantly throw just one) don’t differentiate.

Dave S
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Dave S
4 years 11 months ago

Am I the only person that wants to know the one batter that got a slider?

(or am I just the only one that doesn’t know already? LOL)

cs3
Member
cs3
4 years 11 months ago

“All but one of Masterson’s pitches sat between 89.9 and 97.7 MPH,”
=======================================
Is this a typo? i dont think Masterson throws anywhere close to 98, but i suppose i could be wrong.

ecp
Guest
ecp
4 years 11 months ago

Well, that’s what the Pitch F/X data says…97.7 max speed.

Kirkwood
Member
Kirkwood
4 years 11 months ago

Not a typo. Masterson has a pretty wide range of speed on his fastballs. I remember him hitting the high 90’s a few times when he was a Red Sox, always impressed me as he usually sat in the low 90’s at the time.

Rusty
Guest
Rusty
4 years 11 months ago

I don’t think I’ve seen him hit 98 but I’ve seen him get to 95-96 pretty consistently with his 4 seamer. 97.7 wouldn’t surprise me.

Spitta
Guest
Spitta
4 years 10 months ago

those three tenths between 98 and 97.7 really make a difference huh?

clevelander
Guest
clevelander
4 years 11 months ago

possibly a dumb question, but they say a knuckleball dances more in the humidity, right? i watched a few innings and masterson’s sinking fastball looked downright splitter-iffic in the tropical conditions last night. same principle at work? he didnt need a conventional breaking pitch, the fastball was far from straight.

Kerp Wilson
Guest
Kerp Wilson
4 years 11 months ago

I have a question, does WAR factor in facing the pitcher for NL pitchers? I realize that’s only like, 2-3 times per game, but that could be 60-90 PAs over the year.

Telo
Guest
Telo
4 years 11 months ago

fWAR is driven by FIP, and FIP doesn’t care who you are (pitcher or first baseman). However, there could be an adjustment made by taking a different replacement for the AL/NL, but I don’t think that’s how they do it.. So if that’s the case, there is a small bias towards NL pitchers. Good question.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 11 months ago

FIP doesn’t include an adjustment, but there a park/league adjustment made when converting FIP to runs-above-replacement.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 11 months ago

FIP- and xFIP- have the league/park adjustment in there too. That’s sort of their purpose.

Matty Brown
Member
Member
Matty Brown
4 years 11 months ago

third basemen are the new pitchers

10 Day Fantasy HR Contest
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

CS3: Masterson consistently sits around 92-94, but can get it up to 97-98 at times.

Also, it’s not that accurate to say that the catcher had a very easy night. They call 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs, and as one reader pointed out he was about 50-50 on those. Also, the location is pretty key. I would actually say it wasn’t an easy night for Marson because they had to be almost perfect with the fastball because neither of them knew if the slider and changeup were any good last night. Masterson throws one of the hardest and heaviest balls in the majors, but he still has to locate it, and a lot of that is on the catcher. See Fausto Carmona for location troubles.

Barkey Walker
Guest
Barkey Walker
4 years 11 months ago

WTF is heavy?

If a ball is moving with velocity v and rotation at speed s about axis q, that is all you need to know for how it will go off the bat.

All American Home Run Derby
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Heavy means sink. Groundball pitcher. When batters hit it, they just hit it into the ground because of the downward sink.

Spitta
Guest
Spitta
4 years 10 months ago

All you’re saying is that a catcher’s job is tough, which is true, but using a typical caught game as a baseline it’s tough to argue that an 8IP, 6 Ks, 4 H, 2BB line calling two pitches is an “easy night”.

Also, location is a key component to successful pitching on any night, all you do is embellish it in your argument.

Matt
Guest
Matt
4 years 11 months ago

All catchers look alike.

Sultan of Schwwingg
Guest
Sultan of Schwwingg
4 years 11 months ago

As hard as it for me to believe that Masterson actually threw his fastball 103 out of104 pitches, if true, I think this kid is awesome. I can’t even imagine how accurate he must have been, or what life was/is on his fastball. 26 years old!

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4 years 11 months ago

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RC
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RC
4 years 11 months ago

As a Redsox fan, I didn’t really like the Martinez deal at the start, and I like it even less now. Masterson would look great in John Lackey’s locker.

Joe
Guest
Joe
4 years 11 months ago

Kerry Wood did this once when he was getting a blister. I can’t remember the year. He started out normally, but went all fastballs from the 4th inning on.

All American Home Run Derby
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

It might be worthwhile to check out David Wells in the late 90’s. When he was with the Orioles I’m pretty sure he threw mainly fastballs.

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