Now that the 2013 season is complete, it’s time to take a look back at the team and how each player performed on the field. After focusing the majority of our recaps on position players thus far, today we shift our attention to the starting rotation and the Indians ace, Justin Masterson.
Justin Masterson’s 2013 Projection:
Nobody knew what to expect from Justin Masterson heading into the 2013 season. Not even our former fearless leader, Lewie Pollis, knew what to expect when he previewed Masterson’s season back in March.
The consensus seemed to be that Masterson couldn’t be anywhere near as bad as he was in 2012, but he also not nearly as good as he was back in 2011. This seemed like a logical conclusion to make at the time. GIven everything we had known about the 2012 Indians, there was no way that anyone could possibly replicate the horrific numbers they put up during that frustrating season.
There was also the fact that Justin Masterson’s 2012 performance did not match up with his skill level. Anyone who had watched the Indians and Justin Masterson with any type of regularity knew he was better than the 11-15 record, 4.93 ERA, 1.454 WHIP he posted in 2012. The key, as stated by Lewie, was that Masterson would have to find a way to limit the damage inflicted upon him by left-handed pitching. The .826 OPS against by left-handed hitters needed to be addressed.
The hope for Masterson was that through the tutelage of Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway, he could find the form that made him such a dominant force during the 2011 campaign. Francona had managed Masterson during his formative years coming out of the Boston bullpen so there was a level of familiarity that no other coaching staff could have brought in. Would the message get through to Masterson? That was the ultimate question.
So What Happened?
As it turns out, Justin Masterson wasn’t as bad as he was in 2012. He also wasn’t as good as he was in 2011, either. In fact, Masterson was probably the best we have ever seen him during his time with the Indians. In the process, any questions about whether or not Masterson could be a legitimate ace or front line starter were answered. It was a resounding yes.
Masterson pitched 193 innings during the 2013 season and turned in a 3.45 ERA, 1.202 WHIP, and a career high 195 strike outs and 9.1 SO/9. Perhaps most impressive were the three complete game shutouts he threw. For his troubles he also earned his first trip to the All-Star game, although he didn’t make an appearance in the game itself.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Masterson, and the most obvious link to his dramatic improvement, was his performance against left-handed hitters. One season after giving up an OPS of .826 against lefties, Masterson improved that number significantly to .697. And while lefties had their moments against Masterson, for the most part he was able to limit the amount of damage they were able to do against him.
Where Do We Go From Here?
With Masterson’s place secure as the Tribe’s ace, the only question left to answer is for how long. With Masterson set to hit the free agent market following this season, it would be in the best interest of the team to consider negotiating a contract extension. Otherwise, the Indians risk falling into a similar situation as the one they find themselves in this season with Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir.
That said, there is the question as to whether or not the Indians will want to tie up the necessary amount of money and years it will take to keep Masterson around long-term. He will turn 29 years old prior to the start of this upcoming season and will be on the wrong side of 30 by the time his new extension goes into effect. We’ve seen before how damaging long-term extensions can be so the Indians will have to be cautious when it comes to making this decision.
There is also the concern surrounding Masterson’s performance on mound. The 2013 season went a long way in determining that Masterson can be the ace of a staff. However, before the Indians should be willing to pull the Brinks truck up to his front door it would be nice to see him perform well in back to back season. It serves the Indians no good if their ace only pitches like an ace in even-numbered years. Of course, Masterson duplicating his 2013 performance in 2014 would only serve to increase his price tag. Again, these are all things the Indians will have to weigh.
For the time being, though, Masterson will take the mound for the Indians on opening day in 2014 and will serve as their front line starter for yet another season. He is a work horse and barring some sort of catastrophe there should be no reason to expect anything but another great season from him in 2014. Let’s just hope Justin Masterson and the Indians can come to an agreement for about their future together.
While it would be easy to post a video of one of Masterson’s many fantastic starts, it’s infinitely more fun to post video from an in-game interview. During this particular interview, as Masterson is talking, he is constantly being pelted by sunflower seeds and spray from what one can only hope is a water gun. Despite it all, he keeps his concentration all the way through.