It’s safe to say Justin Masterson hasn’t gotten off to a great start. He’s 0-2 with a 6.65 ERA after four outings, and in his last three outings he’s given up 15 earned runs with 11 walks and just five strikeouts in 13.2 innings. It hasn’t been all bad—he was lights out on Opening Day—but things have gone downhill from there.
With Masterson taking the mound for the Tribe tonight, in this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we asked our panel: Are you worried about Justin Masterson? Joining our respondents this week are Indians Prospect Insider‘s Andrew Zajac and Andy Cooper. Here’s what we all had to say:
Andrew Zajac (Indians Prospect Insider): My level of concern can be described as minimal. He pitched a phenomenal game on Opening Day. He followed that up with a terrible outing and a bad outing. What’s the difference? His last start, he actually faired pretty well the first time through the lineup.
Two poor outings isn’t reason for a ton of alarm just yet. He hasn’t shown the same signs of a season long problem as other pitchers have, such as Tim Lincecum. His velocity is fine. Masterson needs to be more consistent and demonstrate better command and feel for his pitches. If he can locate his fastball, along with mixing in his secondary pitches, he can be the ace the Indians so desperately need.
Simple solutions for a temporary problem.
Andy Cooper: Nope, not worried. It’s April and he’s only had four starts. In one of those starts, he was completely dominant against the team that is leading the AL East. In two others, he was basically undone by one poor inning.
However, it does seem like his command is something we’ll need to keep our eye on. Ten walks combined in his last two outings is obviously too many, but walks will kill any pitcher. Paul Hoynes quoted Masterson as saying that he’s not trying to pick corners, but if that were the case, I’d expect his strikeouts to be up as well (only five in the last three starts).
Nonetheless, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. His control has improved from year-to-year each season he’s been with the Indians, and I don’t think a bad month should make us hit the panic button on the Tribe’s # 1 starter. If nothing else, his performance last year earned him the right for fans to be patient with him this year.
Lewie Pollis: It’s been only four starts so it’s too soon to make any firm conclusions, especially since one of them was pretty darn good. But something definitely seems a little off with Masterson this year, and there’s at least some cause for minor concern.
The walks are the big thing so far. After three seasons of improvement, Masterson’s BB/9 rate has shot up to 5.0 this year, and just from watching him he doesn’t seem to have his normal command. The ultimate demonstration of that was last week in his start against the Mariners—when your ace gives up a walk with the bases loaded, you’re in trouble.
Combine his questionable control with a decrease in his velocity—PITCHf/x has his fastball down almost 3 mph from last year—and it seems like something isn’t quite right. To panic now would be a big overreaction, but it’s not too soon to be a little worried.
Katie Hendershot: Justin Masterson looked like he hadn’t missed a beat when he opened the season earlier this month. He when eight innings, striking out ten while only allowing one run on two hits and a walk. His next three starts haven’t been inspiring.
I find this concerning, however, I’m also not ready to say that Masterson is going to have a bad year. I’m more convinced that he’s going through a rough start than anything else. If, after a few more starts nothing seems to have improved, then I will worry. As a whole, the pitching starting pitching has been struggling the past few games and needs to get back on track if the Indians want to have a chance this season.
Masterson has shown that he’s a dominant pitcher, and I see him as the ace of this staff. There is no doubt that we need to see more from him, and I expect that to come with time and as he settles in this season.
Merritt Rohlfing: I’m not going to say I’m worried about Masterson, but it is a little concerning to see him struggle so. As I’ve delved deeper into his work this season for a more in-depth look at his struggles, I’ve noticed his incorporating more change ups, but shying away from the sinker and power fastball that he made hay with last year. He’s also suffered a velocity dip, though the cold weather he’s been throwing in could have something to do with it. It’s Cleveland in April after all.
It’s the times when he seems to just lose the zone that are more troubling, and that could stem from anything including psychological or mechanical. It’s pitching after all, a combination of repetition and keeping a proper mindset is needed to be successful. It’s still early, and he was murderous on Opening Day, so let’s give him some time. Or freak out, I like that second option. Let’s just not talk about Ubaldo.
Brian Heise: I’m not worried about Justin Masterson at the moment. While he’s struggled in three of his first four starts, he’s had moments early in each where he’s looked like the 2011 version of himself. He also had that spectacular Opening Day start, so he can’t be completely broken. It seems like it has more to do with a mechanical breakdown in the middle of each outing than anything else. How else can you explain Masterson looking dominant one inning and then completely lost the next? You can’t.
Last season Masterson explained that he had developed a series of self checkpoints in his delivery to help keep him locked in during his starts. If I were any kind of betting man, I’d be willing to wager that one of these check points gets out of whack and he’s simply unable to correct the problem on the mound right now. More time in the bullpen in between starts should help more than anything else. He should be fine. Now, if we’re still talking about this come May 27th, then I’ll start to worry.