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.


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 the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Red Sox Talk

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.

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.