Although Masterson turned in a great start against the Orioles on Monday (7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K), he has been almost as inconsistent as Jimenez during the season.
At the beginning of his last start against the Rays, Masterson was firing fastballs in the 97 mph range and appeared to be ready to mow down the impotent Rays lineup.
Then inexplicably...he lost it. Seven hits and seven walks later, Masterson was gone after only 4.1 innings pitched. He escaped with a no-decision after the Indians made a comeback but eventually lost 10-6.
Masterson has had more (six) back-to-back quality start stretches than Jimenez and has had one stretch where he had a four-straight quality start string...also in June.
Compare this to 2012 when Masterson had 10 back-to-back quality start groups and started the season with six straight quality starts. Masterson posted a 12-10 record with a 3.21 ERA throughout the season and displayed much more consistency and dominance as the Indians' true ace.
Masterson is currently 7-8 and has a 4.12 ERA. According to baseball-reference.com, his WHIP (1.37) is up from last year (1.278), and his BB/9 (prior to Monday's start) rate was also higher (3.9 compared to 2.7). Masterson's SO/BB rate is down (1.88 compared to 2.43).
Masterson's command has been very spotty this year. It is interesting to note that according to fangraphs.com, Masterson's pitch selection has been quite different this year. The following are the percentages of his pitches thrown during 2011 and so far in 2012 (prior to the July 23 start against the Orioles):
2011: 84.4 percent fastballs (including sinkers), 14.9 percent sliders, .7 percent changeups
2012: 78.5 percent fastballs, 21.5 percent sliders
The difference may be telling. Masterson is obviously going more to sliders this year than he did last season and less with his fastball. Are sliders the most effective pitches for him over fastballs?
In looking at this chart on Fangraphs, Masterson averaged around 79 percent fastballs in his quality starts and 76.8 percent in his non-quality starts. This isn't much of a difference, but a difference nonetheless; and it could help to explain his reduced effectiveness in 2012.
Let's also examine some interesting data on batted balls against Masterson from Fangraphs. The percentages shown will be the percent of batted balls that resulted in the different types of ball flights:
As stated by Steve Slowinski of Fangraphs:
Pitchers with high ground ball rates tend to give up more total hits, but they also allow fewer extra base hits. This is relatively intuitive: ground balls are harder to field than fly balls and they rarely go for extra bases (and almost never go for home runs). So pitchers who limit the amount of fly balls hit will also limit the amount of extra bases against them. Similarly, fly ball pitchers tend to allow fewer total hits, but more extra base hits.
2011: 16.9 % line drives (LD), 47.8 % ground balls (GB), 29.2 % fly balls (FB), 8.5 % home runs per fly ball (HR/FB)
2012: 16.4 % LD, 47.9 % GB, 30.1 % FB, 11.5 % HR/FB
2011: 20.3 % LD, 66.5 % GB, 11.4 % FB, 2.7 % HR/FB
2012: 19.9 % LD, 63.1 % GB, 15.7 % FB, 10% HR/FB
2011: 12.5 % LD, 45.8 % GB, 27.8 % FB, 3.3 % HR/FB
2012: 18.6 % LD, 42.4 % GB, 22 % FB, 8.7 % HR/FB
In comparing this season with an effective 2011 campaign, it is interesting to see the small differences in batted balls on fastballs, which was noted above, he has been featuring less frequently. Also noteworthy is that his usually devastating sinkers have resulted in a smaller percentage of ground balls and a larger percentage of fly balls.
His sliders are getting hit harder yielding a higher percentage of line drives and a smaller percentage of ground balls.
Every pitch type is resulting in a higher percentage of HR/FB. Masterson has already given up nine home runs in 21 starts whereas in 2011, he gave up only 11 the whole season.
It appears that a heavier reliance on his fastball will help make Masterson become a more consistent cog in the Indians' starting rotation.
Whatever the reason for the inconsistency, it is imperative that Masterson and the coaching staff figure out what is making Masterson less effective and less consistent this season because he is the ace of the staff and will be a key (if not the key) to the Indians' ultimate success or failure this season.
After Monday's start against the Orioles, Acta expressed Masterson's importance to the team on foxnews.com:
Masterson did a tremendous job. He did what we expect our No. 1 guy to do—get out there and shut down the opposition and give us an opportunity to win a ball game even when we don't score many runs.