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Is Justin Masterson Worth Fantasy Baseball Sleeper Consideration?

Eric StashinSenior Writer IMarch 30, 2010

PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 09:  Relief pitcher Justin Masterson #63 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the MLB spring training game at Peoria Stadium on March 9, 2010 in Peoria, Arizona. The Indians defeated the Mariners 6-4.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Justin Masterson is a pitcher many have been waiting on, though it took a trip out of Boston for the potential production to finally be there.  Unfortunately, the move to Cleveland didn’t get off to the best of starts:

One Win
57.1 Innings
4.55 ERA
1.59 WHIP
52 Strikeouts (8.2 K/9)
35 Walks (5.5 B/99)
.319 BABIP

Control was clearly his major issue, though not indicative of his abilities. 

Over his minor league career (233.0 innings), he posted a 2.3 BB/9.  He regressed during his time in Boston (3.7 BB/9), though that was spent mostly in the bullpen, not the rotation.

From Aug. 14-Sept. 17, Masterson made seven starts.  He walked four or more batters in six of them. 

For a pitcher who came through the minors with impeccable control, that’s just unthinkable.  Wanting to blame it on the pressure of impressing his new team or some other reason, I just can’t expect that to continue.

While he was struggling with his control, the strikeouts were impressive. 

He had a minor league career K/9 of 7.5, though that was dragged down by a mark of 5.3 over 95.2 Single-A innings in ‘07.  At every other stop where he pitched at least 30 innings he was well above eight strikeouts per nine innings.

Needless to say, the strikeouts are very much for real and just add to the intrigue of a pitcher preparing for his first full season as a starting pitcher.

So far, we have a solid strikeout rate and a walk rate that should improve.  What is the third piece of the puzzle? 

The ground ball rate, where Masterson has the stuff to be elite.  Over his minor league career he posted a 61.5 percent ground ball rate.  Over his first two major league seasons he’s posted marks of:

  • 2008—54.3 percent
  • 2009—53.6 percent

Obviously, the spring is not indicative of how good the Indians will be defensively, but they currently rank second in fielding percentage.  They’ve committed 14 errors.

If the team can maintain that type of defense, Masterson could be in-line for a very good season.

I know, there are two big ifs in this analysis:

  • Masterson improving the walk rate.
  • The Indians defense being elite.

The first one I’m fairly confident will happen.  The second, I’m not so sure. 

Still, with his skill set and with a guaranteed rotation spot in hand, I definitely would endorse taking a gamble on him in all formats. 

Why not take that type of gamble on someone like Bronson Arroyo or another no-upside veteran? This way you could easily find a similar pitcher on the waiver wire at any time.

What about you?  Is Masterson a pitcher you’d be willing to take the gamble on?  Why or why not?

If you would like to see a free preview of the Rotoprofessor 2010 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide (available for just $5) now including a Top 50 Prospects for 2010 List, click here.

For some 2010 projections, click here.  Among those we’ve already covered include:

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