- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Masterson’s Shine

Entering last night’s start against the Boston Red Sox, Justin Masterson was 1-5 with a 5.46 ERA. His peripherals suggested he was a better pitcher than those old timey numbers gave him credit for. So how did Masterson respond while facing his old team but by causing his pitched baseballs to eat more grass than a sick dog. Yes, even more than his usual 62% groundball rate. Here’s his line:

9 IP
2 H
0 ER
6 SO
2 BB
110 Pitches
75 Strikes

That doesn’t tell the entire story though. Here’s the real beef:

21 BIP
17 GB
3 FB
1 LD

That’s 21 balls in play and 17 groundballs –- or 81% — unsurprisingly this left the Red Sox without an extra base hit on the night. The most ridiculous aspect of the night is that Masterson allowed two of those fly balls in the ninth inning. That means that through eight innings and 26 batters –- or nearly three times through the lineup — roughly 90% of the Red Sox’s balls in play were of the groundball variety.

The most surreal aspect is how this marks Masterson’s fifth start this season with a groundball rate over 70% and yet it’s not his highest rate this year. In fact, he’s only allowed more fly balls and line drives than grounders in one start all season; and even then his GB% was 46%. In a May 19th start against Kansas City Masterson faced 23 batters and had 14 of 16 balls in play pound the ground. Against the Orioles days earlier he’d allowed 20 balls in play with 15 being grounders. Then there was his outing against the Yankees two starts ago, where 13 of 28 batters faced hit grounders. That’s almost half the batters he faced, and they all smacked the ball into the earth.

Compare that to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 17 strikeout performance versus Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night and one wonders which the more frusturating style of defeat is. Sure, fanning 17 times as a lineup is more embarrassing, perhaps humiliating, but at least the guy throwing at you for seven innings was straight out of a nightmare.

To drop some analogies on this thing, Masterson carefully placed the carrot in front of rabbits, but only in locations where they could nibble on it, never allowing for a solid chomp. Strasburg never let the rabbit feel as though he had a real shot at biting that carrot. Or, in more simplistic and gory terms: Masterson’s approach resembles death via a thousand papercuts, whereas Strasburg prefers headshots.