I am going to have to admit I was pretty wrong about Cleveland Indians RHP Justin Masterson.
I have followed Masterson since his days in Boston and with his three-quarters delivery, I always believed he was better suited for the bullpen.
He also struggled against lefties throughout his career, which led me to believe that any team he would face would just stack the lineup with left-handed batters and Masterson wouldn’t be able to make it through the fifth.
Lefties hit .290/.370/.414 with 10 HR in 443 plate appearances last season.
But Masterson has proven me wrong and is proving he can be a solid Major League starter—a very good one at that.
Masterson improved to 5-0 last night as the Indians defeated the Kansas City Royals 9-4. Masterson allowed five hits, three runs, two walks and struck out seven in 6.2 innings of work. He has a 2.18 ERA on the season.
Masterson, a groundball pitcher, is throwing more groundballs than ever this season (62.5 percent) and out of the 20 outs he recorded last night against the Royals, just four were in the air.
He also has been absolute death on right-handed hitters throughout the season.
Right-handed batters are hitting just .138 against Masterson and have just one extra-base hit in 63 plate appearances in 2011.
To quote Harry Doyle, “One hit? One freakin' hit?”
And if you take a look at the end result of right-handed batter ABs against Masterson, 87.3 percent of those ABs have either ended in a groundball or an infield flyball.
That’s doing damage.
Now, there are a couple of things to watch for as the season continues for Masterson.
First, his left-on-base percentage is going to be hard to sustain throughout the season. Right now, it’s at 82.5 percent. The MLB average is around 70 percent, so expect some of those runners stranded on second and third to score at some point.
Second, while he has improved somewhat against left-handed batters, Masterson hasn’t “mastered” them quite yet. He is striking out 7.4 lefties per nine, which is up from last season, but lefties are still hitting .286 against him in 2011.
The optimist out there will look at the .340 BABIP lefties have against Masterson in 2011 and say that will eventually even out.
We don’t know how Masterson will fare in the future. But right now, he is one of the better starters in the American League.
That’s something I never thought he would be.
You can follow The Ghost of Moonlight Graham on Twitter @ theghostofmlg