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Can Justin Masterson Be An Ace?

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Heading into his age-28 season in 2013, Justin Masterson is an anomaly. He isn’t a top-tier pitcher and he isn’t awful. In fact, it is hard to say that he is even someone that the Cleveland Indians can, or should, rely on.

Since arriving in Cleveland from the Boston Red Sox in the Victor Martinez trade, Masterson is 30-45 with a 4.27 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP, tossing 659.2 innings over 113 games (106 starts). His best season was in 2011, when he went 12-10 with a sparkling 3.16 ERA and 1.28 WHIP over 216 innings. However, that leaves Masterson with a record of 18-35, an ERA of 4.79, and a WHIP of 1.50 in 443.2 innings outside of his masterful 2011 campaign.

After regressing to a 4.93 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP in 2012, the Indians need to know what they have here. But what exactly is Justin Masterson?

  • Masterson is a ground-ball pitcher: He ranked sixth in MLB in groundball percentage at 55.7 percent last year. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2010, Masterson is also sixth in MLB in groundball percentage at 56.7 percent. His 2.22 GB/FB rate is seventh in MLB since the start of the 2010 season.
  • Masterson is an innings-eater: Since the start of the 2010 season, Masterson is 27th in MLB with 602.1 innings, having topped 200 innings in each of the last two seasons.
  • Masterson is hard to hit: Masterson’s 17.7 percent line-drive percentage is 10th in MLB since 2010, right in front of Cole Hamels (11th) and behind R.A. Dickey (8th).
  • Masterson is a strike-throwing machine. Of Masterson’s 9,976 pitches since the start of 2010, 37 percent have been balls. When you compare that to Justin Verlander (34 percent), Felix Hernandez (35 percent), David Price (35 percent), and Jered Weaver (36 percent), you can see that he keeps the ball in the strike zone. The only issue is that Verlander (8.93), Hernandez (8.52), Price (8.54), and Weaver (7.95) have a much higher K/9 than Masterson, who has posted a 6.83 K/9 since 2010.

Justin Masterson may not be an elite starting pitcher and he may never be. When you look around the league and see Clayton Kershaw (25 in March), Tim Lincecum (29 in June), Felix Hernandez (27 in April) and several other young starting pitchers with several accolades at this stage in their career, you have to wonder if Masterson is anywhere near those players or ever will be.

However, Masterson is a very good starting pitcher, who is worth more in real baseball than fantasy baseball, and sometimes that is overlooked. While he won’t post any Greg Maddux-like numbers, he could, very well, be the pitcher that he was in 2011 going forward, and while that may not garner Cy Young votes from our friends in the BBWAA, it would at least be enough to provide the Indians with their version of a No. 1 starter.

Masterson may not be the definition of a No. 1 starter but he has the peripheral statistics to become and maintain reliable starting pitcher statistics. At the age of 28 and heading towards free agency in 2015, Masterson needs to become that pitcher to hit a financial jackpot and to help the Indians become legitimate contenders in the AL Central.

Masterson isn’t in the same conversation as the Verlanders, Weavers, and Prices of the pitching world, but he can settle into the middle pack, and possibly be a leader of that middle pack, which isn’t a bad thing.

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