Justin Masterson, barring injury, will have a spot on the 2011 Cleveland pitching staff, but Manager Manny Acta has remained elusive about the specifics. Acta and the rest of the Cleveland decision makers have time, approximately seven months, to determine what inning, or innings, Masterson will pitch in the upcoming season.
Time, in terms of rebuilding, is often looked at as a detriment, not as an advantage, for teams but, the Indians should be in no rush to pigeonhole Justin Masterson into a relief role.
Masterson, one of the key pieces in the Victor Martinez trade, has frustrated the organization with results as inconsistent as former umpire Eric Gregg’s strike zone. The Jamaican born righty has shown the ability to dominate a powerful Boston lineup, and just as easily succumb to the barely-there Oakland offense.
The organization’s frustrations with Masterson all lay within his inability to locate a fastball inside to left-handed hitters and the stats across the board show a massive lefty/righty split.
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com
The split has lead some, including members inside the organization, to question if Masterson would be best suited as a potential late inning reliever. His fastball can touch the mid to upper 90s with plus movement to his arm side and his slider has shown flashes of another solid offering.
Theoretically, the move would seem like a logical fit – for a CONTENDING team expecting to win now not a rebuilding team.
The Indians, a minimum of three years away from contending, should be more interested in developing players that can maximize their potential worth, not limit it. Moving Masterson into the bullpen next season still does not solve his spotty control against left-handers and it would essentially turn him into a ROOGY (Right-handed One Out GuY).
Teams will pinch hit any left-handed hitter off the bench and it will force Acta to immediately make another pitching change, not only further depleting the bullpen’s depth but, Masterson will never learn how to pitch to lefties.
Rebuilding teams should not be in the market to develop relief specialists and should let Justin Masterson continue his development in the rotation. This represents the exact gamble the Indians should make.
He has the potential to become a number three big league starter, and if his development fails, the team will still have options to move him into the bullpen.
The Indians, in an all too familiar position for teams in the early stages of rebuilding, have time, and a lot of it, let’s hope they use it wisely.