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Entries in Justin Masterson (3)


Justin Masterson, Strikeout Fiend?

Justin Masterson and the Cleveland Indians don't agree on a whole lot these days.

According to Paul Hoynes of, the two sides remain several dollars apart in terms of perceived value for the 28-year-old righty, who's currently in his second year of arbitration eligibility. Masterson had vouched for a $11.8 million salary for the 2014 season, but the organization countered his offer for $8.05 million -- which is the "biggest difference among any unsigned player who filed for arbitration this winter," as reported by Hoynes. Consequently, the two parties have tucked away the paperwork for what would have been a multi-year contract extension, and instead will meet Feb. 20 in St. Petersburg, Fla. for their arbitration hearing.

Value discrepancies notwithstanding, there is one thing both sides can agree on: Masterson was really good last season. In his eighth season in the majors (and fifth since joining Cleveland in 2009), the former second-round pick posted career-bests in several categories, including (but not limited to): WHIP (1.20), complete games (3), shutouts (3) and strikeout rate (24.3%). The lattermost stat stands out the most when you look back at Masterson's past seasons, especially considering his very average 7.1 K/9 rating from 2008 to 2012. Suddenly, he struck out 9.1 batters per nine in one year's difference? How is this possible?

Improvements with Slider

Results vs. Masterson's slider
1. 2012.197.31738.8%30.2%28.0%31.2%39.2%
2. 2013.108.17641.1%27.0%30.4%37.5%51.6%

Masterson's slider made improvements across the board over the past two seasons, both in terms of opponent averages against it and in 'swing-and-miss-ability'. One thing that stands out is batters' slugging percentage against the offering, which was a meger .176 last season -- the lowest among pitchers who threw at least 700 sliders last season. We also notice that opponents expanded the zone a bit more frequently against it (30.4% chase%), missed at a 41.1% clip (fifth-highest among qualified starters in 2013) and put just 27% of such sliders in play (also fifth-lowest among qualified arms).

The one aspect of the pitch that improved most last season, however, was its ability to generate called-strikes, increasing to 37.5% -- second to only Yu Darvish (38%) among righties who threw 800 sliders. How this factors in to Masterson's strikeout increase is simple: With better command of the pitch, more called strikes follow, which equates to more strikeouts.

Pitch Frequency Comparison

Masterson's strikeout rate against righties escalated from 23.3% in 2012 to 32% in 2013 (compared to increasing from 13.5% in 2012 to 19.4% in 2013 against lefties), and his improved slider had a big say in that boost. Notice the compressed pitch frequency of the offering between the two seasons; he seemed to have much better command of the offering, throwing in the strike zone 44.9% of the time last season compared to 39.3% in 2012.

Evidently, this increase swayed umps into giving him more calls, as his called strike rate escalated to a healthy 39.3% in contrast to his 24.6% mark two seasons ago. We shouldn't be too surprised by this increase, as there is a strong correlation between zone% and called strike% -- the more pitches you throw in the zone, the more called strikes you get with the offering. For example: The major-league average starter threw 46.5% of his sliders in the zone last season and accrued a 30% called-strike rate. But when you decrease that zone% to 39%, your called-strike rate falls to 23%. Throw 53% of your sliders in the zone, and your called-strike rate jumps to 35%. And when your called-strike rate goes, up so too does your strikeout rate.

It seems Masterson's better-commanded slider (especially against right-handed batters) was the key to his strikeout increase last season. Whether or not he can sustain this moving forward may well determine the length and amount of his next contract.


Bautista's Bomb off Masterson

Jose Bautista started the 2012 season where he left off last year by taking a Justin Masterson slider over the left field wall for a solo home run yesterday.

Masterson made the mistake of hanging the pitch high in the zone, an area Bautista has done quite well in.

Jose Bautista vs. Sliders, 2011-2012You can see that Bautista did very well against sliders up in the zone last year.  Ten of his 43 HRs came off sliders, although only one of those was up in the zone.  His .456 wOBA against sliders actually led the league last year, so pitchers would do well to avoid throwing it against him altogether.


Justin Masterson's Trouble with Lefties

Cleveland Indians pitcher Justin Masterson is 5-5 this season and it's almost as if his five wins were against a lineup of righties and his five losses were when he faces lefties.

Let's take a look at his issues:


Overall, batters are hitting .266 against MastersonAgainst righties:

Righties hit .214 against MastersonRighties hit:

.253 against Masterson's sinker

.240 against Masterson's fastball

.077 against Masterson's slider

Against lefties:

Lefties are hitting .308 against Masterson

Lefties hit:

.306 against Masterson's sinker

.319 against Masterson's fastball

.273 against Masterson's slider

Bottom line:

The Tigers had six lefties in the lineup last night and Masterson can be expecting more of the same as the progresses.