Jump to content

Providing independent coverage of the Minnesota Twins.
Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

The Forums

Jason Turbow on Sano

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 10:39 PM
https://thebaseballc...trous-reaction/   Turbow wrote the great book - The Baseball Codes - that discussed the changes in baseball's...
Full topic ›

Bright spots

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 10:31 PM
One my areas of concern coming into the season was the defensive play of the left side of the infield.  So far they have far exceede...
Full topic ›

Game Thread: Twins@Rangers 4/25/17 7:05PM

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 10:20 PM
Nicknames! How many of you remember these words? “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver...
Full topic ›

Article: Berrios, Romero, and... Turley? Oh My!

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 10:18 PM
Big names were slated to pitch in the Twins system Tuesday night, with Jose Berrios, Fernando Romero, and Dereck Rodriguez all taking the...
Full topic ›

Article: Buxton Not Alone In Early-Season Struggles

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 10:01 PM
In case you haven’t been following the Minnesota Twins to this point in the season, Byron Buxton has started the season really slowly. On...
Full topic ›

Twins Taking A Close Look At Justin Masterson

By now you are aware that the Minnesota Twins have some level of interest in free agent pitcher Justin Masterson.

The big-bodied Masterson is an ideal rebound candidate -- he is only 30 years old, he has big ground ball numbers, solid strikeout rates, averaged 199 innings per season from 2010 to 2013 while working 6.2 innings per start, big BABIP numbers are primed for regression and so on. You know, all the stuff that made Phil Hughes so amazing. On the other hand, because of his delivery and repertoire, he has never fared well against left-handed opponents and he had some shoulder ailments at the end of the 2014 season.

The Twins front office will tell you that they are doing due diligence on all the available options, not just Masterson. Beyond the reasons above, here is a more in-depth look at what to expect from him in 2015.
Masterson Is Just Another Nick Blackburn, Right?

Twins fans probably think of the last few seasons of Nick Blackburn when they think of sinkerball pitchers. Or Carlos Silva. Or, more current, Kyle Gibson.

That is not Justin Masterson.

Masterson’s sinker is a sight to behold. When looking at the raw Pitch F/X numbers which tells you how much it moved vertically, you will find that he is in rarified company. Of all pitchers who amassed 20 starts in 2014, only Masterson’s sinker fell in the negative numbers in terms of inches dropped at -0.4. This is a number reserved for the submarining sidearmer relievers. On average, the league’s sinkerballers held a 4.3-inch vertical change.

That seems impressive, right? For those of you who glazed over when all those meaningless numbers made an appearance: In layman’s terms, Masterson’s sinker shares similar downward movement usually reserved for curveballs only with fastball velocity. Still not convinced? Look at this example from Grantland posted earlier this year:

Posted Image

What creates this action is both the grip and the delivery that differ from your standard sinkerball pitcher. Whereas most sinker pitchers use a two-seam fastball grip with a three-quarter arm slot delivery which generates more run than sink, Masterson’s grip is slightly different.

“It’s nothing too extreme,” Masterson told MLB Network’s analyst and former pitcher Dan Plesac on the 30-for-30 program a few spring trainings ago. “I hold it on the ends [of my fingers] and kinda got my thumb on the side.” What it looks like is a modified version of the two-seamer only with added pressure on the sides from his thumb.



Attached Image: Masterson_Grip.png


The next factor related to the movement is the release. Compared to someone like Gibson (whose sinker has a career 5.9-inch vertical change), Masterson’s fingers are almost underneath the pitch at the release point -- not behind the ball and driving it towards the plate like Gibson:

Attached Image: Masterson-Gibson-Release.png


With this grip and release enhanced by the arm slot of a sidewinding slinger, it is easy to see why since 2009 Masterson has a 59% ground ball rate, a 7.8% swinging strike rate (compared to the league-average of 5.5% on the pitch), and a 43.6% in-play rate (the best among sinkerballers in that time).

OK. Sure, yeah. But Masterson Was Terrible In 2014. Explain That, Nerd.

Yes. Very much so.

With a lower velocity and a greater amount of measurable movement in his sinker, hitters were not fooled by Masterson’s favorite pitch in 2014. “Sometimes you get a huge break [on the sinker] but it’s early and hitters can see that,” he said on MLB Network. “But sometimes it tightens up but it's that lateness and that’s what you really want to see.”

Masterson’s sinker -- which had long been susceptible to left-handed bats -- was being splattered by right-handed ones as well. Heading into 2014, opponents had posted a line of .279/.357/.388 with a 59% ground ball rate while averaging a velocity of 91.7 but he was able to hump it up into the upper-90s over the five previous seasons. This last year his sinker was pounded to the tune of .333/.442/.525 but with an improved 64% ground ball rate as his velocity dipped to 88.7 and he was barely able to crest 94 at maximum speed.

His command of the pitch disappeared. He was walking more with his sinker than he was striking out. In order to locate it better, Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said he tried to ease off the gas.

"The problem," Callaway said told reporters in early April, "is what he was doing mechanically, and then trying to ease up and throw strikes with his two seamer, it kind of compounded everything and made it worse. He probably should've taken the other route, drive some four-seamers in there, something that doesn't move and work off that.”

But later in April, following a few more starts, it became apparent that the velocity on the four-seamer that Callaway really wanted Masterson to mix in never arrived. In 2013, he threw 235 pitches 95 miles an hour or above. In 2014, he reached that plateau just once. “He can’t find that four-seam velocity that he had last year,” Callaway told the media at the end of that month. “I wouldn’t say he’s reinventing himself, he’s just playing the cards that he’s been dealt."

As the season wore on, Masterson copped to an injury to his right knee that sidelined him for the bulk of June. Masterson later told people that the knee injury had affected his mechanics to the point of reducing his velocity and command.

So What.

When the Twins requested Masterson’s medical records, as sources claim, the primary focus could be on the health of his right knee.

Following the season with the Cardinals, St. Louis’ general manager John Mozeliak said that Masterson told the team that he regretted not speaking out earlier about his ailments. Masterson’s knee injuries created issues with his mechanics, something the entire state of Missouri attempted to pinpoint on video. As Masterson told the Post-Dispatch there were various recommendations from all sources: he needed to refine his balance point, he needed to drive instead of drop, he needed to stay tall, he needed to keep his front knee closed and so on. All of these suggestions could conceivably help with his sinker command, but only one is aimed at regaining his velocity -- driving off that back leg.

Consider these examples which are indicative of the larger collection of video on Masterson. In 2012 when facing the Detroit Tigers, Masterson demonstrates a great amount of exertion and torque off of his back leg when driving towards home plate. This helps generate the high 90s velocity:
Posted Image

Meanwhile while in his first start with St. Louis, Masterson merely falls forward off of his back leg. There is little drive or engagement from his back leg.

Posted Image

An MRI in September revealed impingement in his right shoulder, which was given a cortisone shot. This could be related to the mechanical flaw seen in the last video. Certainly this type of delivery would place added stress on his arm and shoulder. The question is, to what extent?

Wrap This Up Please.

We know what Masterson can be.

He can be a quality starter who provides 200-ish innings with elite worm-burning skills and that could translate to approximately two wins above replacement (as he was in each season between 2010 and 2013). All of which is possible if he can curb the walks and regain his velocity. That appears contingent on his injuries. If it is just the knee -- and that heals this offseason -- there is no reason to think he cannot rebound to where he was prior to 2014. After all, he will be just 30 years old in 2015. On the other hand, if trying to pitch through a knee injury exacerbated his arm problems beyond what is known, there may be struggles ahead. Still, medical records should shed light on that and provide confidence one way or the other.

After turning down a large multi-year contract from the Indians, reportedly seeking $17M per year, Masterson figures to be aiming for a make-good contract. Unless his medical records say otherwise, he should be able to make-good.

  • GoGonzoJournal likes this

  • Share:
  • submit to reddit
Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

62 Comments

Photo
nicksaviking
Nov 19 2014 08:35 AM

Good stuff Parker.I like Masterson, largely based on the belief that he'll get a short term deal.I love ceiling and could care less about floor as should the Twins considering there is some credible pitching depth in May, Meyer, Milone, Gilmartin, et al. 

For the layman who is a little baffled at the -0.4 inches dropped on a "sinker", that means that his pitches rise at the beginning after release before sinking later, yet still ends up crossing the plate a touch higher than it was released?I imagine that's what I'm supposed to see in the gif but I'm not really adept at spotting that kind of thing.

    • Hosken Bombo Disco and Sam Morley like this

17 million per year??!

 

Offer him 13 at the highest or walk away.

Not interested unless the price really drops or several option years are included in the make good.Not that many good seasons and will only block pitchers the Twins need to find out about this year(May, Meyer, Berrios, Milone, Plefrey).Some of the above may not be here, but Twins already have 3 filled spots(Hughes, Nolasco, Gibson). 

    • KGB and dbminn like this
Photo
Parker Hageman
Nov 19 2014 09:44 AM
For the layman who is a little baffled at the -0.4 inches dropped on a "sinker", that means that his pitches rise at the beginning after release before sinking later, yet still ends up crossing the plate a touch higher than it was released?

 

 

To clarify, the vertical drop measurement isn't in inches directly -- take a look at this chart below:

 

typical_spin_deflection2.jpg

 

Most sinkers don't actually "sink" (just like rising fastballs don't "rise"). They fall at a greater rate than fastballs and typically run more horizontally. This is where most sinkers (two-seamers) fall on the pitch f/x scale -- above 0. That's the horizontal line. Masterson's sinker on the other hand, falls below that line. 

    • Sam Morley likes this

Compaing the article here with the Brett Anderson piece, it seems more prudent for the Twins to sign Anderson.Sounds like the price tag won't be as high.

 

I'm just crossing my fingers that the right pitching coach is hired and he can get Nolasco right. 

Photo
Hosken Bombo Disco
Nov 19 2014 10:22 AM

To clarify, the vertical drop measurement isn't in inches directly -- take a look at this chart below:
 
typical_spin_deflection2.jpg
 
Most sinkers don't actually "sink" (just like rising fastballs don't "rise"). They fall at a greater rate than fastballs and typically run more horizontally. This is where most sinkers (two-seamers) fall on the pitch f/x scale -- above 0. That's the horizontal line. Masterson's sinker on the other hand, falls below that line.

Maybe not the most intuitive chart -- where the x and y axis cross, it looks like it's indicating the middle of the strike zone (with the bottom of the chart maybe representing the ground).
    • ashburyjohn and Ben Noble like this

I don't like this idea. The guy has injury issues, hasn't touched 90 in a year, and is a ground ball guy to a team with terrible defense. It just doesn't make much sense to me.

He has had two good years and is 30.Career 4.24 ERA.Mechanics issues. Injury issues. Command issues.  You can't trust him on a 3-4-5 year extension if he has a good year here, IMO.

 

And I find it ironic that his BB rate the last two years has been worse than Alex Meyer's in AA and AAA over the same period.But the BB rates are what have kept Meyer from even getting a shot to pitch for the Twins.

Photo
Willihammer
Nov 19 2014 11:33 AM

According to Masterson, the knee nagged him since the 2nd start of the season. However his sinker velo on the first start was 90.6, right in line with the rest of the year. Perhaps he hurt knee compensating for a third (initial) injury like an ankle or back?

Photo
ashburyjohn
Nov 19 2014 11:42 AM

a ground ball guy to a team with terrible defense.

? Infield defense wasn't the Twins problem in 2014. 

 

Ground balls hit to the outfield gap have been a problem however. :)

    • jokin likes this

I don't like this idea. The guy has injury issues, hasn't touched 90 in a year, and is a ground ball guy to a team with terrible defense. It just doesn't make much sense to me.

I'm with you.Would we want to add a guy with velocity issues to a team that had velocity issues?

Photo
Parker Hageman
Nov 19 2014 12:22 PM
Maybe not the most intuitive chart -- where the x and y axis cross, it looks like it's indicating the middle of the strike zone (with the bottom of the chart maybe representing the ground).

 

 

I should also mention that the distribution is based on right-handed pitcher movement from the catcher's perspective.

    • Sam Morley likes this
Photo
Parker Hageman
Nov 19 2014 12:23 PM
According to Masterson, the knee nagged him since the 2nd start of the season. However his sinker velo on the first start was 90.6, right in line with the rest of the year. Perhaps he hurt knee compensating for a third (initial) injury like an ankle or back?

 

 

After the season he said that his side was still hurting in spring training -- from the previous year's oblique injury. The knee likely hurt his shoulder, which MRIs said was impinged. 

    • Willihammer likes this
Photo
Parker Hageman
Nov 19 2014 12:43 PM
I don't like this idea. The guy has injury issues

 

 

On the contrary, he's had minimal injury issues:

 

Attached Image: Masterson.png

 

Could he be in line for some? Sure. I do believe that if there are any red flags, the Twins should be able to catch them on his medical records. 

 

    • jokin likes this
Photo
Willihammer
Nov 19 2014 12:44 PM

After the season he said that his side was still hurting in spring training -- from the previous year's oblique injury. The knee likely hurt his shoulder, which MRIs said was impinged. 

According to this

 

 

Randy Rowley, Masterson's agent, said the [oblique] injury caused a change in his mechanics, which led to soreness in his right knee.

 

On the contrary, he's had minimal injury issues:

 

attachicon.gifMasterson.png

 

Could he be in line for some? Sure. I do believe that if there are any red flags, the Twins should be able to catch them on his medical records. 

 

I guess then injuries did not play a role in 2009 (4.52 ERA, 1.45 WHIP).2010 (4.70 ERA, 1.50 WHIP), and 2012 (4.93 ERA, 1.45 WHIP).

Photo
nicksaviking
Nov 19 2014 01:12 PM

Well Cleveland got a pretty good prospect for him despite his down season.If he's looking for a make good deal, I'd love to take the chance that the Twins get an improved performance and get an even better return for him mid-season.

    • jokin likes this

Well Cleveland got a pretty good prospect for him despite his down season.If he's looking for a make good deal, I'd love to take the chance that the Twins get an improved performance and get an even better return for him mid-season.

 

I don't understand why this wasn't the strategy in 2011-2013 when we didn't have the young pitchers ready to break through.  We signed two guys, Pelfrey and Harden maybe with this in mind.Pelfrey had no upside and Harden had about a .01% chance of being healthy.

 

I think you sign a guy that is a 2-3 year answer, one that is better than what you have or you give reps to the young guys.No in between.This feels very in between to me.

So I have been pretty grumpy about the prospect of Masterson coming to the Twins, but this is a pretty compelling case in his favor. The two things I found most compelling were the analysis of his sinker, and the association of his drop in velocity with a lack of back leg drive. Some of the comments have been additionally helpful in explaining that negative sinker metric, but honestly, it's still not clear for me. Maybe somebody has a link that explains it in detail? I guess what is clear about it is that it's an exceptional pitch, so I feel a little less grumpy about getting a guy with an exceptional pitch. The video comp highlighting the change in back leg drive is impressive. It's amazing that you can actually see him driving that much harder in the first clip. And that's a very straightforward and almost obvious explanation of velocity loss. And it seems reparable. 

 

As excellent as all of the analysis in this article is, I wish it were more balanced. It's clear that you're high on Masterson and want to convince readers of his value, and that's fine, but I wish you had done more to address some of his glaring flaws. I think you do a good job explaining why he was so exceptionally bad last year, and you do acknowledge his propensity to walk. But I think you downplay the walks without exploring whether or not it's likely or possible that he can/will reduce them. Additionally, it seems like maybe you overestimate his ability to get strikeouts. Discounting last season (because he was hurt, and terrible) when I look at Masterson's K/9 and BB/9 year to year, I notice a walk rate of at least 3.5, with one outlier in 2011 of 2.7. Interesting that his career best in BB/9 is paired with his career worst in K/9, 6.6, a year that also produced his best ERA 3.21. But aside from the K/9 outlier in 2013 of 9.1, he seems to hover around 7, which is fine, but hardly of note. It would be pretty nice to buddy up that 9.1 with the 2.7, but that's wishful thinking. Sure we could poo-poo the walks, but isn't there a TD t-shirt with the slogan "walks will haunt" on it?

 

Also, reading the comments, it seems like one injury leads to another: knee, back, shoulder, oblique. Yikes. And doesn't that blatant upside down W motion make you even more nervous? I feel like that's been flagged as the number one predictor of future arm problems.

 

? Infield defense wasn't the Twins problem in 2014. 

 

Ground balls hit to the outfield gap have been a problem however. :)

And while this is true, aren't we expecting/hoping to see Santana and Sano on the left side this season, and possibly more of Vargas at first?

 

Anyway, good article, and I suppose it's a good sign that Cleveland wanted him back for multiple years... 

Photo
Parker Hageman
Nov 19 2014 01:56 PM
I guess then injuries did not play a role in 2009 (4.52 ERA, 1.45 WHIP).2010 (4.70 ERA, 1.50 WHIP), and 2012 (4.93 ERA, 1.45 WHIP).

 

 

What's your point? In his four seasons prior to coming to Minnesota, Phil Hughes had a 4.64 ERA. 

 

Injuries did not play a role in his 2009 when he was a reliever. 2010 he had a 3.87 xFIP, 21% K% and a 0.70 HR/9. In 2012 he had a 4.15 xFIP, 17% K% & 0.79 HR/9. All good things.

 

He's definitely susceptible to left-handed opponents, there's no denying that but, for the most part, his peripherals have been better than his ERA indicates.

What's your point? In his four seasons prior to coming to Minnesota, Phil Hughes had a 4.64 ERA. 

 

Injuries did not play a role in his 2009 when he was a reliever. 2010 he had a 3.87 xFIP, 21% K% and a 0.70 HR/9. In 2012 he had a 4.15 xFIP, 17% K% & 0.79 HR/9. All good things.

 

He's definitely susceptible to left-handed opponents, there's no denying that but, for the most part, his peripherals have been better than his ERA indicates.

 

Hughes career ERA in every start outside of the New Yankee stadium was 4.10 or so.By coming to MN, you fix that problem.Hughes was also almost three years younger. 

 

Can we fix Masterson's issues?That is debateable. Our track record at doing so is not great.  

 

But that doesn't really matter to me as much as how inconsistent Masterson has been.My fear is he pitches well for 3-4 months and then we hand him a three year $45M deal. He has been way too inconsistent to extend him.He also has a good shot at being the 4.50-5.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP guy again and our rotation is terrible again while taking reps from young players.

    • beckmt likes this
Photo
Parker Hageman
Nov 19 2014 02:10 PM
As excellent as all of the analysis in this article is, I wish it were more balanced. It's clear that you're high on Masterson and want to convince readers of his value, and that's fine, but I wish you had done more to address some of his glaring flaws.

 

 

Glaring flaws? There are plenty of people in the comment section who are trying to do that for me...

I will say that the only "glaring flaw" is his struggle against left-handed batters (which was mentioned several times in the article) but I also highlighted a bit on Twitter yesterday:

 

Attached Image: Twitter.png

 

To me, that's still a big flaw. 

 

I know you mentioned his command but again, that circles back to his ability to retire left-handed hitters. Over his career RHB K%/BB% is 25%/8% while his LHB split is 15%/10%. He still walks a lot of both but he's able to generate more strikeouts against same-sided batters.  

 

17 million per year??!

 

Offer him 13 at the highest or walk away.

 

I will be upset if we pay anywhere close to 13 million a year for him.In fact I'll be disgusted if we sign him at all.I just don't see the logic of it.Sure the starters weren't good, but the outfield is the biggest need in my humble opinion.  Address that first and foremost. 

 

Ryan is probably under pressure this season, but they need to be patient with the starters.  We have Milone, Meyer and May ALL ready to go this season.Berrios is a year away tops.  That's six starters not counting Berrios, Darnell or Gilmartin. 

 

Why spend this kind of money on a 30 years old, who has only had two winning seasons and sports a career average 4 + era.It just doesn't make any sense when you consider he's a sinker / meatball tosser (aka Silva / Blackburn type) and we have one of the sketchiest outfields in all of baseball.  

 

To me this is a no go decision.The Twins have a huge mess in the outfield and are about to shake the infield up too by moving Santana to short stop full time.  I don't like the thoughts of signing ANOTHER mid 4 era starter when we have tons of options within. 

Photo
Parker Hageman
Nov 19 2014 02:14 PM
My fear is he pitches well for 3-4 months and then we hand him a three year $45M deal. He has been way too inconsistent to extend him.

 

 

From 2010 to 2013, he averaged 199 innings with a 3.67 FIP. Seems pretty consistent to me. 

 

I really don't think the Twins will make a huge commitment beyond the year for Masterson (or any free agent pitcher). They have plenty of talent behind him in the system. 


Similar Articles


by Parker Hageman , 12 Mar 2017
Photo


by Parker Hageman , 12 Feb 2017
Photo


by Parker Hageman , 26 Jan 2017
Photo


by Parker Hageman , 19 Sep 2016
Photo


by Parker Hageman , 16 Sep 2016
Photo