In part of a flurry of moves before yesterday’s 8-6 loss, the Red Sox announced that they were going to option Joe Kelly to Triple-A Pawtucket and activate Justin Masterson to start on Sunday. This is a strange move, as Masterson has been absolutely terrible in seven starts this season, posting a 6.37 ERA with the lowest fastball velocity of his career and a 4.8 BB/9 rate. So, given Masterson’s consistent failure this season, it’s worth wondering if this is his last chance as an MLB starter. Not just in 2015, but his last chance period.
Frankly, it’s amazing that Masterson has been able to forge out a relatively successful career as a starting pitcher given his clear flaws. In all his years as an MLB starting pitcher, Masterson has never sorted out his issues with left-handed hitters, who have hit .282/.368/.430 (!) against him in his career. He also has never truly established consistent command, walking 3.75 batters per nine innings through his career.
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Masterson has managed to have a relatively successful career, though, based on one thing: a damn good sinker. With both velocity and great movement, that pitch, along with a killer slider, was able to offset most of his woes with command and lefties as he was able to absolutely dominate righties to the tune of a .219/.308/.305 slash line.
The problem with Masterson in 2015 is that, while his shortcomings are as prevalent as ever, his previous strengths have all but vanished. The huge movement on his sinker and slider are still there, but without control or velocity, the effectiveness is nearly gone.
Masterson could likely have some success as a reliever limited to facing right-handed hitters, but his days as a starter are likely finished. Unless Masterson magically can regain his velocity, he will probably not pitch well on Sunday and, if he doesn’t, it’s hard to imagine him sticking in the rotation for another start. He’s had a successful career as a starter but those days are behind him and he’ll have to accept a move to the bullpen if he wants to remain in Major League Baseball.