Can Masterson Find Form In Boston Return?

At the conclusion of MLB’s Winter Meetings, using the term “busy”  to describe everything that went on would be the understatement of the century. The number of impact transactions have been mind-boggling, as many teams are either pushing to win now or putting themselves in a better financial situation to win in the future. After the acquisition of two big bats at the beginning of the offseason, the Boston Red Sox have put themselves in a great position to leave 2014 behind and return to their winning ways. All that is left to do is grab some pitching.

From a fans perspective, there is no doubt that a serious upgrade to the rotation needs to happen. Many quickly turned their sights to top free agent and former team ace, Jon Lester, hoping the lefty would return to the team after spending half a summer away in Oakland. After the two-time, World Series champ was inked to a six-year, $155 million deal by the Chicago Cubs, many were left bitter and wondering when or if the team would make a push for an ace, a must have in their minds.

Fast forward to today, the team has yet to land an ace via free agency or trade, but is doing a great job of stockpiling more than capable arms in the form of Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, and Justin Masterson, a former top prospect for the team. While each member of this trio can use the coming years in different way from an improvement standpoint, one can argue for Masterson being the biggest bounce back candidate, as he is coming off the worst statistical season of his career. The team is hoping they can get their former prized sinker baller back on track, seeing a one-year, $9.5 million deal as a low risk, high reward type move.

The Red Sox selected Masterson in the second round of the  2006 Draft, and he quickly developed into one of the organization’s most prized pitching prospects. After a very successful rookie season relieving and spot starting in 2008 (88.1 IP/6-5/68 K/3.16 ERA/1.22 WHIP), the right-hander found himself experiencing some growing pains in 2009 before being the headliner in Victor Martinez deal. With the Cleveland Indians, he developed the reputation of being an innings eater who flashed brilliance (2011: 216 IP/12-10/158 K/3.21 ERA/1.28 WHIP; 2013: 193 IP/14-10/193 K/3.45 ERA/1.20 WHIP), but proved over and over again just how un-hittable, yet inconsistent, he could be at times.

A sinker ball pitcher by nature, Masterson features a low, three quarter arm slot. The combination of the unique arm slot with his 6’ 6” frame and abundance of movement on every pitch he throws, makes him an uncomfortable at bat for both right and left handed hitters. It is hard to know his entire arsenal by watching highlights; it appears as if he throws two different fastballs, a sinker and a two-seam, a slider, and a change due to the type of the movement on his pitches, but one could see where it would be a challenging at bat.

His fastball sits anywhere from the low to mid 90s, and explodes leaving his hand, whether it be up and down or side to side. The deceptive movement allows him to challenge and surprise any hitter on the inner half of the plate. His sweeping slider, which is most definitely a put away pitch, sits in the low to mid 80s and is hard to pick up out of his hand. If the spin or dot on the ball, which is the first thing great hitters notice when this pitch is being thrown, is not picked up right away, a weak swing or check swing is in their future. His change-up, which is the least used pitch in his arsenal, sits in the mid to high 80s and has sharp, inside break to right hander’s when he throws it.

From a pure stuff standpoint, the 29 year old is more than capable of being a top three starter on many teams. His issue from year to year is control. Not just walks, but getting his pitches to go where he wants them to go. Harnessing movement like this is no easy task, but the Red Sox are hoping a return to his roots and re-uniting with John Farrell can get him back on track after an injury-laden, unsuccessful 2014 with the Indians and St. Louis Cardinals (128.2 IP/7-9/116 K/5.88 ERA/ 1.63 WHIP). When all is said and done, Masterson is very much still in the prime of his pitching career and can lock down a nice deal of his own if all goes well in 2015. This is a big year for both him and the Sox, who are looking to bounce back themselves after a rough 2014. Word to the wise; do not sleep on either.

Ryan Magnuson, MLB Correspondent for Baseball Essential

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