Starting Pitcher Waiver Wire: Masterson and Arrieta

Although it feels like every other week we lose another established arm to testy ligaments (or well trained ligament surgeons), it has the alternative effect of making you dig a little deeper for starters who are not only worthy of a roster spot, but ones that ought to be actual contributors. It’s the proverbial silver lining – you may experience a catastrophe, but you might discover a hidden gem in the process.

Lose a Cory Luebke? A Neftali Feliz? There are solutions.

Justin Masterson was bombed by the Seattle Mariners in his third start of the year and he almost immediately started hitting waiver wires across the contiguous fantasy landscape. Being blasted by a team that has set historic marks for offensive ineptitude is just difficult to stomach after all.

But, recall, this is the same Justin Masterson who was universally rostered in 2011 after he turned in the best results of his career with 12 wins over 33 games started, posting a 3.21 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Well, if you liked him last year, there’s no reason not to like him this year.

His contact rates are actually a little bit better (worse, of course, if you’re facing him) than they were in 2011, he’s generating a 7.2% swinging strike rate which isn’t thrilling, but it’s about what you’d expect from a sinker-balling, worm-burner-inducing hurler like Justin Masterson. He’s been throwing 53% sinkers which has resulted in almost a 60% ground ball rate. Ground balls tend to have a higher BABIP than fly balls (as you well know), so he’s likely to give up a few more hits – but you’d rather have them squeak past Asdrubal Cabrera rather than over Shin-Soo Choo‘s head — right?

Masterson’s HR/FB rate is over 13% right now, and that’s likely to come down some as his career rate is right about average at 9.7%. He’s also picking up the pace in terms of fastball velocity, which was an early season concern, as was his walk rate, but he’s show some improvement in the free pass department lately as well. He’s owned in fewer than a quarter of leagues in Yahoo and just over 40% of ESPN leagues, so he’s probably free to many of you. He’s not going to win you a fantasy league, but ZiPS seems to think he’s good for another eight wins and a sub-4.00 ERA, so he could certainly stop the leak in the dam for a good long while should you have one.

Possessing swing-and-miss stuff and having the ability to throw strikes are two pretty important skills for a pitcher. And Jake Arrieta had demonstrated neither. That is, until 2012:

Arrieta has seen a dramatic increase in his strikeouts and a concomitant drop in walks. His 22.3% K rate is better than Clayton Kershaw, Yovani Gallardo, and David Price. It certainly may not finish the season there, but he’s making it tough on batters at the very least. And perhaps more important is his ability to stay within the strike zone as his walk rate tended to derail most quality starts in the past.

His ERA isn’t particularly sparkling at 4.72 in large part due to an unfortunate strand rate of 65.1% and HR/FB rate of 14%. The predictors, if you’re the ERA predictor sort, suggest something in the mid to low 3’s based on his current performance. Despite some pessimism from ZiPS going forward, should Arrieta be able to maintain his early trends, he could be in for the kind of year you’ll want on your roster.

Arrieta has utilized five pitches in the past, but his change up was always a bit of a work in progress and among run values, it was by far his worst. He’s used it enough to keep hitters on their toes in 2012, but he’s largely abandoned it and gone more exclusively to his sinker and fastball with his curve and slider sharing time at about 15% a piece. His fastball and sinker are both up in fastball velocity by about a mile per hour a piece, and perhaps related, their run values have jumped significantly over his past into positive territory.

He’s got a tough start coming up versus Boston, so you might want to monitor the results before deciding on him. But if Baltimore is really going to make some noise in the AL East this season, Arrieta could be valuable in the win category along with providing a solid source of strikeouts without killing you in ERA and WHIP. And right now, that’s kind of a pessimistic view of his ability.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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Where would Felipe Paulino compare to these two?