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Sell High: Justin Masterson
Nate Springfield | Monday May 23rd, 2011
It's time to cash in on Justin Masterson. (Icon SMI)
It's time to cash in on Justin Masterson. (Icon SMI)
Sell High takes a look at fantasy players who are performing above expectations and posting statistics well beyond their previously understood fantasy value.  These players can be shopped via trade and, based on their currently inflated value, dealt to another fantasy owner for a profitable return.  Today's Sell High focuses on Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson.

A 2006 second round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox, Justin Masterson made his way to the Cleveland Indians in 2009 during the trade that sent catcher Victor Martinez to bean town.  In 2010, Masterson threw 180 innings over 34 appearances (29 starts), posting a sub-par 4.70 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and striking out 140 batters.

Through nine starts in 2011, Masterson's ERA sits at a meek 2.52 with a 1.22 WHIP, while striking out 48 batters in his 60 2/3 innings pitched.  Thanks to the help of a good Cleveland offense, he already has 5 wins, one less than his 2010 total.  Clearly, Justin's numbers are much better in 2011, but is he a better pitcher?  A look past the usual starting pitcher statistics shows that his success may be short lived.

The first advanced statistic that most people look at is batting average on balls in play (BABIP), but Masterson's 2011 BABIP of .305 is real close to his career mark of .309 and well within the league average (usually around .300). However, the advanced statistic that you should take notice of is his strand rate or left-on-base percentage (LOB%).  On average, 70 percent of batters that reach base never score.  So far this year, 78.3 percent of batters that have reached base against Masterson have not scored, which is not only above league average, but above his 67 percent career mark as a starting pitcher.  Another stat worth noting is the miniscule amount of home runs allowed per fly ball (HR/FB Rate) hit against him.  Only 2.2 percent of fly balls hit against Masterson have left the park, compared to the league average of a 10.6 HR/FB.  His sub-3.00 ERA will vanish when this statistic regresses to the mean.

If you are not a big believer in advanced stats, there are two other reasons that suggest Masterson's early season success will not continue.  First, when facing left handed batters Masterson has struggled, allowing a .326 batting average against lefties, compared to a .141 batting average against right-handed hitting.  Out of the 18 runs scored against him, 14 have scored by left-handed hitting.  Look for teams to start stacking their lineups with left-handed bats when facing Masterson.  Secondly, the Cleveland starter relies heavily on two pitches, throwing his fastball 78.7 percent of the time and his slider 20.4 percent of the time.  He does have a changeup in his arsenal, but throws it less than one percent of the time according to FanGraphs.com.  A starting pitcher in the game today has to be able to throw three pitches for strikes in order to have any kind of sustained success.

Even though the 26-year-old pitcher from Ohio is pitching with a much improved offense, a consistent increase of about a mile-per-hour on his fastball, and has shown slightly better control this season, Justin Masterson is essentially the same pitcher as he was in 2010.  His early success will not last deep into the season, and any fantasy owner should try to sell high to get a good return on the pitcher that probably was drafted as a roster filler back in March, if he was drafted at all.
Nate SpringfieldNate Springfield joined the Baseball Press crew for the 2010 season and hosts the site's podcast. His love for the game has grown thanks to fantasy baseball, with a specialty in NL-only auction leagues. You can contact him at nate@baseballpress.com or follow him on Twitter @NateSpringfield.