The Cleveland Indians have surprised some people early in the MLB season as they trail the Detroit Tigers by just a half game in the American League Central. They haven’t been exceptional, but they have been an above-average team, which is more than a lot of people would have predicted for them.
They have enjoyed a nice display from Mark Reynolds and terrific overall performances from Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley. Their bats have been much more alive than was expected coming into the season. However, another pleasant surprise that the Indians have enjoyed is the ace-like performance that Justin Masterson has given him to start this year.
Masterson was wildly inconsistent for Cleveland last season. He finished the season with just an 11-15 record and a relatively high 4.93 ERA on the season. He posted a solid 159 strikeouts on the season, but his WHIP was a high 1.45. He had nice velocity on his stuff, but he seemed to never be able to put a solid string of games together. He’d look like an ace one game, but would look like someone who didn’t deserve a spot in the rotation the next.
Through his first nine starts this season, though, Masterson has been a stud. He has a 6-2 record, a solid ERA of 3.14, a much improved WHIP of 1.17, and has already struck out 60 batters on the season. He’s finally found whatever was missing, consistently taking the mound with confidence and dealing the way he needs to be successful. His strikeouts per nine innings rate is the highest of his career at 8.57 and his 3.43 walk rate is the second lowest of his career. He’s been on point.
The good news for the Indians is the fact that the underlying numbers say that Masterson should be able to continue pitching this well. He has a FIP of 3.11, just lower than his ERA, and an xFIP of 3.68. That means his stuff is just better than it has been in previous years. The Indians are off to a nice start and Masterson’s start is definitely a big part of that.