A Baseball Weblog

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Appreciating Justin Masterson

Justin Masterson has had a tough year. Despite making 12 starts, he only has 2 wins. Before last week, his ERA was sitting in the 5s. He's also playing for one of the worst teams in the league. However, as is often the case with young pitchers, there is a lot to be encouraged about with Masterson. First, he's just 25 years old, so he obviously has a lot left to give. Second, he has ridiculous stuff that's helping him produce some solid peripheral stats that will likely cause his ERA to drop. Before I get to the third great thing about Justin Masterson, I'll look at that ridiculous stuff.

Masterson has the great and rare combination of missing bats and getting ground balls. He works with four pitches: a sinker that he uses as his primary pitch, a four-seam fastball, a slider, and an occasional changeup. Masterson's four-seamer also gets significant sink on it due to his low arm angle.

pfx_xpfx_zAverage VelocityMaximum Velocity

Here are some pitch outcomes for Masterson's offerings:

Pitch#Pitch%Whiff RateZone RateChase RateWatch Rate


Whiff rate is misses/swings (league average ~19%), zone rate is pitches in the strike zone (~47%), chase rate is swings/out of zone pitches (~28%), watch rate is takes/in zone pitches (~36%). When looking through these, I was struck by how Masterson uses his sinker. Sinking fastballs tend to induce the most contact of all pitches, but Masterson's whiff rate on the sinker is above the major league average. This is because he throws it out of the zone frequently --- it's in the strikezone less than 40% of the time, and its movement causes hitters to "chase" it when it's a ball. And when it's a strike, it's probably going to be hit into the ground. The full batted ball report:

Obviously an extremely sample size warning for the changeup; only six have been put into play. As for the other three pitches, everything is significantly above average in the groundball department (compare to Harry Pavlidis' pitch-type benchmarks): .720 for the sinker, .486 for the fastball, .625 for the slider.

So far this year, Masterson's problem has been with walks. His 4.61 BB/9 rate is the highest of his young career, and is fourth highest among 2010 starters. All of those sinkers out of the zone are helping him pick up strikeouts but are also causing him to let batters reach base on balls. However, his current skill set adds up to a 3.89 xFIP; if he can get his ERA down into the sub 4 range, I'm sure that the Indians would be elated.

I almost forgot the other great about Masterson. By all accounts, he's a gem of a human being; his unofficial fan club is probably headed by his former manager, Terry Francona. Before his major league debut with the Red Sox, Francona called him "one of the nicest kids you'll ever meet." When Francona met with him before Masterson's start against his former team last week, he talked with him for a while and told him that he hoped that he'd win every start after the Red Sox got out of Cleveland. Like Masterson said, he's apparently not a very good listener. I, like Francona, hope that his complete game shutout last week is the beginning of a long run of success for him.

Gameday PITCHf/x data is from MLB Advanced Media; it can be easily accessed via this tool. League averages for pitch results are approximated from Fangraphs' plate discipline stats.

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