I have been carefully watching Masterson and LaPorta early this year. Their development, or lack there of, will greatly impact the next few years for Cleveland. LaPorta's significance is the result of prospect scarcity at first base. There is a relative wealth of starting pitching prospects in the Cleveland system right now. Masterson's importance comes in the need for experienced starting pitchers. Right now, Cleveland's only veteran pitcher is the 27 year old Fausto Carmona. Carmona is the only starter with more than one year's experience as a starter. Mitch Talbot and Masterson are the only other starters with a single full season's experience.
If Cleveland is going to develop into a playoff caliber team, they are going to need veteran pitchers. Ideally, Carmona and Masterson can develop into those pitchers.
Let's look at Masterson's second start of the season. These examinations come with their standard warning about small samples. However, a comparison between Masterson's first and second starts offers us very interesting results.
For the causal fan, I will mention here that Masterson has one of the most dramatic lefty/righty splits in the major leagues. His near side arm delivery makes him extremely difficult for right handed hitters. However, left handed hitters get a good view of his pitches. In his career, righties hit .226/.303/.319 against Masterson, and lefties hit .293/.383/.435.
Let's look at Masterson's approach to left handed hitters in game 1 against Chicago. (Thank you, fangraghs.)
It is worth noting two sliders that Masterson was identified as throwing were most likely fastballs (based on velocity and movement). I don't know, if those two sliders were among the three sliders thrown to the lefties.
What we see from Masterson's approach to lefties is that he primarily attacking them with his 4-seam fastball. In the game, lefties had 5 of the 7 hits Masterson surrendered, and they hit .455/.500/.500 against him.
Now let's look at Masterson's approach to left handed hitters in game 2 against Seattle. (Again, thanks, fangraghs.)
This is a very different approach to the lefties in game 2. Here Masterson comes at them primarily with a sinker/slider combo. This difference in approach is mirrored in the results. In game 2, lefties hit .211/.211/.316 against Masterson.
There seem to be three explanations for the changes between game 1 and 2.
1) He had better command and comfort with his fastball in game 1. Where as in game 2, he was commanding his sinker and slider. There is some evidence supporting this option. Manny Acta said that Masterson had a very good slider in game 2. Also, I count 30 sliders in 111 pitches against the Mariners, and 12 sliders in 98 pitches against Chicago.
2) The scouting and game plan for the individual batters dictated the different approach. I have no access to such things. So, I have no idea how much this played a role in different approach to left handed hitters.
3) Masterson is changing his approach to left handed hitters. The sample is too small to make judgments here. However, this bears further study.
The lefty/right split is an essential element to Masterson's development. His struggles against left handed hitters is no secret. Teams are going to continue stacking their lineups with lefties. If Masterson cannot consistently get lefties out, he will be bound for the bullpen as a ROOGY. There is a vast difference between the value of a 200 inning starting pitcher and a ROOGY setup man.
Here at ttfc, I will be keep a close eye on how this plays out.