Dodgers Go Low-Risk High-Reward With Justin Masterson

Aug 9, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Justin Masterson (63) in the dugout against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Justin Masterson (63) in the dugout against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

Opening Day is just around the corner but that hasn’t stopped the Dodgers from making any more transactions.

The Dodgers‘ front office is always thinking proactively with the future in mind. They are always looking to add more depth whenever they can, whether it be on the cheap or expensive. Most of their transactions to add depth have been under-the-radar and uninspiring moves which have had positive influences for the most part. For this specific offseason it was the Frankling Gutierrez deal first, and then a trade with the Seattle Mariners that brought back two lesser-known prospects.

Now the Dodgers have decided to sign 32-year-old Justin Masterson. This is going to be more of a reclamation project if anything, because Masterson is aging and has struggled in recent seasons in the majors. This is another eye-rolling move for many fans because he has a career 4.31 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and has had his own battles with injuries the past few seasons.

Now you may ask why the Dodgers’ front office decided to sign a 32-year-old, possibly injury-prone, journeyman (that’s what he is at this point). Well, because he is a great buy-low candidate who serves as a great low-risk high-reward signing.

The Dodgers have depth in pitching but it’s fragile depth. Scott Kazmir is expected to start the season on the DL while Brandon McCarthy, Rich Hill, and Hyun-Jin Ryu don’t exactly have stellar health histories. However, when all are healthy, they can be very effective and possible x-factors for the 2017 season. Add Masterson to the “Talented When Healthy” group.

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Hardcore baseball fans might best remember Masterson from his days as the Cleveland Indians’ ace. 2011 and 2013 were undoubtedly his best seasons and they were good seasons in whichever way you look at it.

In 2011, Masterson threw 216 innings and posted a 3.21 ERA (3.28 FIP) and a WAR, according to Baseball Reference, of 4.1. In 2013, Masterson threw 193 innings for a 3.45 ERA (3.35 FIP) and a WAR, according to Baseball Reference, of 3.4. He struck out a career high 9.1 batters per nine-innings in 2013 and even made the All-Star team that season. Those are workhorse numbers and numbers that would make for an excellent mid-rotation arm, but his role would not be that extensive. So yes, he can be very productive in any reasonable role given.

Masterson is a extreme goundball pitcher, so the 9.1 K/9 is just an abberation. However, ground-ball pitchers are more appealing and effective than fly-ball pitchers. He primarily uses a sinker while mixing in a traditional fastball, slider, and changeup into his game.

The downside, however, is that his health and performance have waned in his last couple of stints in the majors. In his 188 innings from 2014 and 2015, he had a 5.79 ERA. Not a pretty number at all but there is still hope for him.

In 2014, he had a 5.88 ERA but his FIP was at 4.50, which is a huge gap. Now a predicted 4.50 ERA isn’t good by any means, but if you consider that the requirements of a quality start is at least six-innings and no more than three earned-runs, you’d view that number differently. The bare minimum requirement of a “quality start” equates out to be a 4.50 ERA, so it’s something to pay attention to. Then in 2015, his FIP was almost a full run lower than his ERA, so you definitely have something cooking.

His ground-ball rate decreased in 2014 and 2015 but it was still over 50%. He has a career 56.3% ground-ball rate which is elite. Masterson also does a solid job of limiting hard contact, as his career 26.0% hard-contact rate is nothing to scoff at. Consider this, his hard-contact rates are comparable to Clayton Kershaw’s and he’s had seasons where he’s been better than Kershaw in that department (2013 and 2015).

There’s definitely something left in the tank and who better than the Dodgers and their pitching coaches to get it out of him. The Dodgers have been know for taking on reclamation projects or no-names and making them rather effective. Masterson would add to that list.

What separates this deal from those of Hill, Kazmir, and McCarthy? Masterson didn’t cost the Dodgers the $48 million each of them were given. Plus he would most likely be used out of the bullpen and only serve as rotation insurance.

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There’s literally no risk involved. He’s not going to start out with the major league squad so he’ll will be allowed to tune-up in the minors and see if he still has anything to offer. If it doesn’t work out, oh well, it would cost the Dodgers pretty much nothing anyways. Bravo Friedman and Co.