Cleveland Indians: Is Justin Masterson the Most Underrated Pitcher in the AL?

jim beamContributor IIIAugust 15, 2011

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 12: Starting pitcher Justin Masterson #63 of the Cleveland Indians pitches during the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Progressive Field on August 12, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Cleveland Indians pitcher Justin Masterson has been having an All-Star-caliber season in 2011. But unless you are an astute baseball fan, you probably did not know that.

However, it is hard to blame most casual baseball fans for being unaware of Masterson's pitching this season. His 9-7 record won't capture anybody's attention, and neither will the .241 batting average opposing hitters have against him.

Although his numbers are nothing to go crazy about, a case could be made that Masterson is the most underrated starting pitcher in the American League.

Masterson is currently ranked fourth among AL starting pitchers with a 2.69 ERA. Of the top seven AL starting pitchers in terms of ERA, Masterson is the only one who did not make the 2011 All-Star team.

He is also the only AL pitcher with a top 10 ERA who has never played in an all-star game. Masterson has allowed only five home runs in 2011, the lowest for any AL pitcher with at least 20 starts.

And although his record is only 9-7, that is due mostly to the lack of run support he has received from Cleveland's hitters. The Indians have scored fewer than three runs in six of his seven losses, and fewer than four runs in six of his no-decision starts.

By all of that data, yes, he is the most underrated starting pitcher in the AL. But before tribe fans curse the mainstream media for not praising Masterson (and before they themselves buy PSLs on his bandwagon), they must realize that his youth is the reason his 2011 season has gone largely unnoticed.

At 26, Masterson is the youngest of the AL pitchers with a top-10 ERA, and this is only his second full season as a starting pitcher.

CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee did not receive much attention during the impressive early stages of their careers, yet both were eventually able to win Cy Young Awards in Cleveland.

More than likely, Masterson will have to wait a little while longer to receive any accolades since his career is still early and because pitchers can burn out quickly.

But he will get much more than just recognition if he can maintain 2011-type numbers in the coming years.