The Cardinals acquired Justin Masterson from the Indians Wednesday. Masterson has certainly had a rough go of it in 2014 with a 5.51 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP.
The big blockbusters of this trade deadline were David Price to Detroit, Jon Lester to Oakland, and Yoenis Cespedes to Boston. However, I think Masterson could be the one who has the biggest potential for improvement after being traded (maybe outside of Cespedes).
In 2013, Justin Masterson was a very good pitcher. He had a 3.45 ERA, 3.35 FIP, and 3.33 xFIP to go with a 9.09 K/9 and a GB% of 58.0%. Masterson primarily throws his sinker, which means that he is a heavy groundball pitcher.
As a groundball pitcher, Justin Masterson needs to rely heavily on his defense. Unfortunately for him (until the trade), the Indians are arguably the worst defensive infield in the majors. Lonnie Chisenhall is poor at third base and Carlos Santana plays on the big league club exclusively for his bat. As a result, Masterson would be having a slightly better season on any other team.
According to fangraphs.com, the Indians are last in DRS and UZR while the Cardinals rank first in DRS and eighth in UZR. As far as the infield goes, the Indians are again last in both DRS and UZR where as the Cardinals are third and first, respectively.
Even if you do not trust defensive metrics in the slightest, I think you can buy the fact that the Indians are simply a bad defensive team and the Cardinals are significantly better defensively.
Plus, the Indians traded away Asdrubal Cabrera Thursday. Cabrera tends to pull off quite a few web gems while Santana and Chisenhall are both playing poorly on the corners, so I have to imagine the defense will only get worse.
Anyway, I should get back to Masterson because in addition to moving away from the worst defense in the league, he also could be in line to improve with a 4.08 FIP and a 4.05 xFIP.
Another plus is that Masterson is moving from the AL to the NL where run scoring is a touch lower. Getting to face pitchers will be quite the bonus as well as no longer seeing Miguel Cabrera almost 20 times a year. Outside of the Brewers, the Reds’ offense is brutal, the Cardinals’ bats are scuffling, and the Cubs are Rizzo, Castro, and flavor of the month replacement level players.
The big issue for Justin Masterson in 2014 is his walk rate went through the roof. Masterson’s BB/9 of 5.14 this season is very bad even compared to his mediocre at best career rate of 3.71 walks per nine. A decrease in walks would certainly be the change that Masterson needs to make.
In addition to his very high walk rate, Justin Masterson is suffering from a .350 BABIP, which we can only assume is largely due to Cleveland’s league-worst defense. Between regression to the mean and playing behind much better fielders, Masterson is bound to have better luck on balls in play.
There is no question that Justin Masterson has not been an effective pitcher in real life or in fantasy in 2014, but I would not be surprised if he turned it around. All of the signs that point to improvement are there. He moved to the NL, he went from a league-worst defense to one of the best, his BABIP is .044 above his career average, and his FIP and xFIP are about a point and a half below his ERA.
On the other hand, Masterson has to improve his walk rate or his improvement will not return to his 2013 level. Maybe the Cardinals can give Dave Duncan a ring to resurrect the career of yet another veteran pitcher.