May 13, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson (63) is relieved by Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona (17) during the sixth inning in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Is Masterson Running Out of Gas?


Justin Masterson teamed with Ubaldo Jimenez in 2013 to create quite a duo at the top of the Cleveland Indians’ rotation. With Jimenez now in Baltimore, Masterson was easily labeled the ace of the staff, but he hasn’t really pitched like it in 2014. The big right-hander’s 4.31 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in his first nine starts and 54.1 innings mask a larger problem.

Masterson has allowed five earned runs in four of his nine starts. Take those four starts (4/6, 4/12, 4/28, and 5/13) – Masterson allowed 20 earned runs while allowing just two home runs, but he has given up 27 hits and 13 walks in 21 innings, while striking out 20. That’s a 9.00 ERA and 1.90 WHIP in those four starts, which…isn’t good. In his other five starts, Masterson has allowed six earned runs while allowing three home runs, giving up 25 hits and 10 walks in 33.1 innings, while striking out 32. That adds up to a 1.62 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP.

This is the up and down that has long been a part of Justin Masterson’s career, and, likely, part of the reason why the Cleveland Indians were wise to not treat Masterson like an ace this winter when discussing an extension. Can you imagine the anger if Masterson was getting paid like Homer Bailey, who is taking all kinds of heat in Cincinnati for not pitching like an ace, yet, getting paid like one?

The inconsistencies are icing on the cake for a bigger problem – the lack of velocity coming from the 6’6″ Tribe ace in 2014.

 

Year Fastball Vel. Sinker Vel. Change Vel. Slider Vel. Fastball % Sinker % Change % Slider % ERA WHIP IP
2008 90.8 87.7 85.1 81.5 48.0 3.8 17.2 30.5 3.16 1.22 88.1
2009 92.9 92.0 85.2 84.0 29.5 42.1 3.3 24.7 4.52 1.45 129.1
2010 92.4 90.6 84.6 82.9 28.1 49.1 2.4 19.9 4.70 1.50 180
2011 93.1 92.0 87.1 83.0 44.8 40.3 0.1 14.3 3.21 1.28 216
2012 92.8 91.7 86.2 82.5 19.8 58.3 2.2 19.5 4.93 1.45 206.1
2013 93.1 91.1 85.7 82.9 21.7 49.4 2.0 26.9 3.45 1.20 193
2014 90.5 88.8 85.7 80.9 19.5 51.2 5.5 23.4 4.31 1.38 54.1

Masterson’s velocity is down significantly, and while you can look towards the decline in velocity from Justin Verlander in 2013 and his incredible September numbers and postseason, there isn’t a guarantee that Masterson is going to return to form. Masterson hasn’t ever really been elite, and his room for error has always been limited due to his elevated WHIP, which stems from his high walk rates. Now, if his stuff is declining, Masterson has another career conflict to overcome.

Not everyone can reinvent themselves when they lose velocity. Tim Lincecum‘s loss of velocity has left him without his Cy Young caliber stuff, leading to a potential debate as to who was a bigger waste of money in San Francisco – Lincecum or Barry Zito? Roy Halladay lost his stuff so quickly due to shoulder woes that he retired at the age of 36.

After wondering all offseason if Justin Masterson was worth a long-term commitment, even if it was team-friendly, the same limitations that stem from Masterson’s inconsistencies are only heightened now by the big righty’s sudden loss of velocity. With no right arm ailments to speak of on Masterson’s resume, perhaps, at the age of 29, the Indians and their fans are watching the decline of their so-called ace.

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