Masterson’s Quick Start

Do you know who has the lowest xFIP of any starting pitcher in baseball through two starts? I would imagine you did not guess Justin Masterson, whose 1.93 xFIP just edges out Roy Halladay for the early lead. But, when you look at his line and see 1.64 BB/9, 11.45 K/9, and a 54.8% GB%, you may realize that he’s put two really good starts together to begin the year.

Guys who can get both groundballs are strikeouts are usually potential front line starters. Masterson can use his sinker to induce a grounder or his slider to put hitters away, and he’s excelled in both areas to start the year. Yet, I’m still concerned about Masterson’s ability to stick in the rotation, and for one simple reason – left-handed hitters.

Masterson throws from a low 3/4 arm slot, as you can see here, making both his fastball and slider brutally tough on right-handed hitters, since it’s being released behind their heads. However, lefties get a good look at that release point, and since Masterson is a two pitch guy, everything he throws them breaks right into their wheelhouse.

This is reflected in the stats. Even in his excellent first two starts of 2010, it’s just come as domination against right-handed hitters.

2010:

Vs RHB: 33 TBF, 6 1B, 1 HR, 1 BB, 14 K
vs LHB: 16 TBF, 4 1B, 3 2B, 1 BB, 0 K

For his career, Masterson has a 3.29 xFIP vs RHBs and a 4.88 xFIP vs LHBs. His sinker still gets lefties to pound the ball into the ground, but he has to nibble around the zone in order to not get hit too hard, so his walk rate goes way up and the strikeout rate goes down. Additionally, he also has demonstrated a huge BABIP platoon split (.336 vs LH, .250 vs RH), which may or may not be real, as we talked about earlier this spring.

While Masterson’s results through two starts have been encouraging, it’s hard to believe anything has really changed. He faced two righty heavy line-ups and blew them away, but we already knew he could do that. He still hasn’t shown any ability to get lefties out regularly, and that will be the key to him remaining in the rotation.

Until he comes up with something to lower his platoon splits, he’s going to profile as a Chad Gaudin/Vicente Padilla type starter. Rather than getting excited about his first two starts, I’d advise Cleveland fans to get excited once they hear that he’s developed a good change-up.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

14 Responses to “Masterson’s Quick Start”

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  1. Red Sox Talk says:

    Dave, totally agree with you here. Lefties have always been Masterson’s Achilles heel.

    PITCH f/x shows his two-seamer with some extra sink and his slider with some better vertical motion, so that may be helping.
    http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfx.aspx?playerid=2038&position=P

    It’s worth noting that his swinging strike rate is way up (12.1% compared to about 9% career) and if you check out Masterson’s pitch type values, his changeup has been good so far (the three times he’s thrown it). I hope that he has taken it to another level.
    http://statcorner.com/pitcher.php?id=475416

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  2. Matt C says:

    Yeah During Keith Law’s chat yesterday on ESPN.com somebody asked him what he thought Masterson’s future would be, and he said future reliever and said because of the basically the same thing you did about struggling against lefties. I never realized how extreme they were.

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    • Matt C says:

      Whoops, just butchered that. I meant to say basically because of the reason you brought up about struggling against lefties.

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  3. The A Team says:

    By the way, for those of you out there who have picked up Masterson in fantasy leagues (like I have). Start him against the Twins at your own peril. That’s a day when Mauer, Morneau, Thome, and Kubel are going to occupy four of the 3-7 slots. It could be a massacre.

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    • Doody says:

      That Twins start next week will be a big test. Assuming Gardenhire notices these splits he’ll start Thome for Young meaning the lineup will have 5 lefties, 2 righties and 2 switch. Could get ugly.

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  4. Reuben says:

    What’s a TBF?

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  5. LP Bashers says:

    What’s a xFIP?

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  6. STEALTH says:

    I’m tempted to buy in, but I think I’ll keep watching for now. I like the K rate, but still… we’ll see…

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  7. kampfer says:

    Even taking his xFIP against lefties he is still serviceable.

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    • R M says:

      Yeah, I honestly don’t understand all the talk about future reliever. Even if he has a career 4.88 xFIP against left handers, he is still facing many more right handers than left handers, which makes his overall performance much more valuable as a starter than it could be as a reliever.

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  8. JCP says:

    Frankly, for those of concerned about Masterson from a fantasy perspective, now is the time to get on board in my opinion. Yes, the lefties may end up returning him to being an average pitcher, but for a guy to have the best xFIP in all of baseball means that he has had the best pitching performance in all of baseball. That’s mighty impressive even if 2/3 of the batters have been right-handed.

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