The Big Masty Problem: What's the Real Issue with Tribe "Ace"?

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Alright so Justin Masterson. A key piece to what this club has put together over the years. Masterson had a masterful 2013 and when the Indians were piecing together contract extensions to core players this offseason, there was talk of Masterson getting one. But he didn't and at this juncture, doesn't appear as if he will.

The Indians were ultimately reluctant to sign off on the deal due to concerns of too many years. Many of us on the Internet, myself including at times, thought something needed to get done with him. That he was a key piece to this club moving forward and with the lack of top-flight starting pitcher on this club, signing Masterson up for the next three seasons was necessary.

I sort of waffled on that notion though, because like the Indians, I wasn't sure if that extra year would make it worth it. Waffling aside, I more times than not wanted Masty signed, to something.

Now we are seeing why the Indians were so reluctant in 2014. Maybe it is odd-year syndrome, but for yet another skipped year, Masterson is dealing with some issues after having a great season the year before.

I'm not going to sit here and pretend I know what is up. Only Masterson does. Only Masterson ever will too. If he's hurt, he certainly isn't going to admit that. And if he does, he will never let on to the severity of it. He's going to go out and try and pitch and get healthy at the same time. How many times have you seen that happen with successful results?


We KNOW the problem. Masterson can't throw strikes. That's really what this is. When Masterson goes south, he has two issues. He doesn't throw strikes. And its mainly to the left handers that he has the issue because of his lack pitch to a left handed hitter. We know the guy can pitch to left handers just as well as he can right handers. We have seen him have success from both sides of the plate. Last year was a perfect example of what Masterson is capable of.

Masty v. LH: .248 AVG, .340 OBP, 10 HR, 54 BB, 96 K
Masty v. RH: .182 AVG, .267 OBP, 3 HR, 22 BB, 99 K

Not the best, but when you bring it back down to the fact that overall he had a 3.45 ERA and a good overall year, then look at some his LH splits from previous years, you ultimately take that, especially since how effective he is against right-handers.

Masty v. LH: .296 AVG, .376 OBP, 13 HR, 56 B, 72 K
Masty v. RH: .232 AVG, .308 OBP, 5HR, 32 BB, 87 K

That's just gross and overall he was damn near a 5.00 ERA. This was a follow up to the following good year.

Masty v. LH: .291 AVG, .331 OBP, 9 HR, 27 BB, 68 K
Masty v. RH: .210 AVG, .300 OBP, 2 HR, 38 BB, 90 K

It was after 2011 that we could look at Masterson and say, okay, he's a decent pitcher, a starter caliber worthy pitcher. But he has to figure out this left-handed issue if he is going to be effective. Then he went out and had 2012, where he actually got worse against them. And it directly had to do with teams loading up the lineups with lefties against him and well, some of the issues we are seeing in 2014. He had 513 plate appearances against him in 2011 from left-handers compared to 395 against right-handers. A year later he had 532 compared to 374. Not THAT many more than in 2011, but the difference between 2011 and 2012 is much larger due to the fact that he faced significantly less hitters because he wasn't getting deeper into games. He pitched the same amount of games, he just wasn't as good, therefore didn't pitch as much. The difference of 118 in 2011 compared to 158. Teams wised up as the year went on, they loaded up their lineups because they saw a trend forming.

Of course, Masterson got better in 2013, which is why we just ignore the numbers from the previous years. We can see that Masterson can be good against left-handers. It isn't a pitch or anything, he just needs to be right. There was nothing different that he did from 2011 to 2012 to 2013 to get better against left-handers. He just possessed more control.

Masty v. LH: .318 AVG, .405 OBP, 5 HR, 27 BB, 33 K
Masty v. RH: .213 AVG, .342 OBP, 1 HR, 26 BB, 59 K

The one consistent throughout all these years is the walks and strikeouts. Masterson has always struck out way more right-handed hitters (despite facing far fewer) and walked more left-handers. It has to do with his pitches. But again, if you see him in 2013, he was virtually the same in strikeouts. He still walked a large amount, but the strikeouts suggest he had his control working for him.

He does not have it in 2014. He can still rack them up against the right-handers because he is naturally, regardless of his issues, always going to be tough on right-handers. But because he doesn't have that out-pitch against left-handers, he's going to struggle to put them away when he can't control his pitches. If he was able to, he'd put the fastball on the outside corner and have no problem putting lefties away like he did in 2013.

Control is gone though, as is some velocity overall. Pitch data shows the following.

  • His fastball velocity is down about 3 MPH from last year, which is despite his struggles from year-to-year, right around his average on that year-to-year basis. He would sit at 93, he's down to 90. His sinker is down from 91 to 88-89. Obviously the changeup remains the same, but the difference is now less. Easier for hitters now.
  • Masterson is throwing his fastball way more than he did last year. The percentage this year (79%) is actually reversing the downward trend in relying on the fastball, but it is more in line what we were accustomed to from Masterson. This includes his sinker, so that perhaps is a reason for the up and down, but his slider percentage is definitely down.
  • His fastball has already accounted for eight walks, compared to 13 all of last year. He's already given up two more home runs throwing fastballs than he did in 2013. He only walked 9 all of last year on the slider, this year he's at 5, this shouldn't end up varying too much.
  • The telling part is the slider is his strikeout pitch because he notched 115 last year. He's only at 52 this year. He most likely garnered a lot of those off the righties.

Of course, based off those last two, I'm jumping to the conclusion that he isn't spotting that fastball where he needs to against the left-handers like he was in 2013, which is causing the walks to go back up and the strikeouts to go back down.

Alright, I literally beat the horse to death. The carcass is just lying there. Get to the point, right?

Injury or no injury? I already got to that point. We will never know. The Indians and Masterson right now claim that there is no injury involved here. I'll color myself Skeptical Sky Blue, because Tito doesn't do anything to convince me otherwise.

"I think he actually feels OK," Indians manager Terry Francona said on Wednesday. "I think it's some command that he's going to have to fight through. I think he physically feels pretty good. ... I think he's open to working with [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] a lot. That's good. We'll fight through it together."

He's OK... Well he's pretty good. Sounds like me waffling on extending him last year.

And Masterson said after the game on Tuesday that "he likes where we're moving," which if you don't Masterson talk, is his way of saying he likes where he is going.

We don't believe him.

Maybe he isn't hurt. That's fine. Not everyone has to be hurt when they aren't pitching well, and using that excuse would be logical to explain why someone goes from a really good year to a really bad one. But it is just typical when someone has a loss velocity, they are doing something different, and when they do something different, it is usually because they are compensating for something they don't have. In other words, he is hurt, so let's make up for it.

That's what everyone is logically pointing to. Again, it very well may not be the case. He could be perfectly healthy and just have a completely messed up mechanical base. Of course, the injury is a more acceptable reason as he could sit down for a few weeks, come back and it would all presumably be fixed.

Mechanical issues themselves, well, that's a little more annoying because we have to suffer through games like Tuesday and things aren't necessarily guaranteed to get better. Maybe he'll go out and have a game like he did against Boston at the beginning of June where he just was slicing through their lineup. But then he'll go out and follow it up with the two innings of crap he put up the next time he faced his former team.

And there will be more of those than the gems. And that's because more often than not, he's mechanically not right. And that really is the issue. The issue isn't that he is hurt. The issue is that he is mechanically broke. The reason could be that he is hurt or he could not.

We know the problem, but not the reason for the problem. Let's all hope that for this team's sake and their potential to contend the rest of the way, and Masterson himself (contract, baby) he finds the solution, whatever that may be.

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