Cleveland Indians Ace Justin Masterson Needs Sinker More Than Ever In 2013

By Thom Tsang
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s difficult to call a top-40 starter worth 11.7 fWAR over the last four seasons a disappointment, but that’s exactly just what Justin Masterson was in 2012.

After the big righty emerged as the Cleveland Indians ace in 2011 with a 4.7 fWAR season that saw him put up a 3.21/1.28 ERA while pitching 200-plus innings for the first time, Masterson regressed in 2012. Though he still ate up the innings (206.1 IP), his 4.93/1.45 ERA/WHIP wasn’t the type of numbers that they wanted to see in Cleveland.

The biggest culprit, as obvious as it may seem, has to do with his fastball.

Masterson, of course, have always relied on his low-90s sinker, but he’s really lived off of it the last couple of seasons, throwing it over 80 percent of the time in each of the last two seasons. That he pairs it with a slider and nothing else makes him a rare two-pitch starter in the game today, and it also means that he now lives and dies with the command he has of those pitches.

In 2012, he took a step back in that department, as he simply did not get the catch the strike zone as much as he needed to with the pitch. The 27-year old’s walk rate with his sinker was 6.0 percent in 2011, but it regressed to 8.4  percent in 2012.

He threw it with less movement and less velocity, and that diminished the fastball’s ground ball-inducing ability, has he saw that number drop from 66.5 percent to 62.4 .

That kind of drop might not normally seem like particularly significant, but its overall effect on Masterson’s numbers is amplified because of his reliance on grounders, and because the lack of additional weapons he has to go to when the fastball isn’t working out.

What’s also worth pointing out here is that Masterson’s ugly splits against lefties came back in 2012. While he doesn’t normally fool LHB with his motion (career 5.74 K/9 compared to 8.56 against RHB), part of what made him so successful in his breakout was the fact that he limited walks to lefties to a 2.04 BB/9.

Those numbers more than doubled in 2012 to 4.37, and even though he’s still very effective against righties, the 1.29 K/BB against left-handers isn’t going to fly, not when they’re posting a .288 BAA.

So, in short: Masterson is essentially already an ace against righties, and just needs to find his strike zone back with his fastball against lefties to balance the equation.

No big deal, right? Only the Indians’ hopes of legitimately contending in the AL Central counts on it, that’s all.

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