30 July 2014

Orioles Should Try to Acquire Justin Masterson

The non-waiver trade deadline is fast approaching.  The Orioles currently find themselves in first place in a surprisingly weak AL East, with the “suddenly surging” Rays (7 games), the “how the well do they have a winning record” Yankees (4.5 games), and the “nobody picked them to be good” Blue Jays (2.5 games) all trailing in the standings.  Despite being in first place, the team has several roster holes to fill, some of which we’ve already discussed (here and here).  I first talked about starting pitching upgrades the Orioles could make back on the first day of the month, and since then a lot has changed.  Baltimore hasn’t made any moves, but other teams have, and several of those options have already been dealt.  However, a new option has emerged and that’s Cleveland’s Justin Masterson.
Masterson deals | Photo courtesy of Keith Allison

While the Indians are still in the playoff hunt (4 games behind the second wild card), they are reportedly looking to move a couple of players whose absence (in their belief) won’t hurt their playoff chances.  Justin Masterson happens to be one of those players.  In fact, according to MLB Trade Rumors, Cleveland is “very willing” to deal him.  It’s true that Masterson is having the worst season of his career (he currently has a 5.51 ERA), but he has several things going for him that should make him attractive to a team like the Orioles, who have a rotation full of #3 and #4 starters, but are lacking an ace.  Granted, Masterson may not be pitching like an ace this year, but he has in the past and was worth 3.5 fWAR just last year.  So why should the Orioles be interested?  Let’s take a look:

1.  He’ll be a free agent after the season

Combine this with the fact that the Indians seem eager to trade him, and it probably wouldn’t take a whole lot to get him.  It certainly shouldn’t require any of the Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey, and Eduardo Rodriguez group that the Orioles (rightfully) would like to hang on to.  Additionally, he’ll only be owed just over $3 million for the remainder of the season, so it shouldn’t hurt the budget too much either, especially for a team that has its sights set on their first division championship in almost 20 years.

2.  Take a look at the following table

There’s a lot to like in this table (there’s also some things not to like, which I’ll get to later).  First, Masterson is a strikeout/groundball pitcher, and he’s performing those tasks in 2014 better than his career averages. Additionally, he’s been incredibly unlucky, posting career highs in BABIP and infield hits surrendered (IFH%), as well as a career low left on base percentage (LOB%).  There’s nothing anyone can do about luck, but getting him away from the Cleveland infield defense and putting him in front of Baltimore’s should bring those numbers closer to his career levels, even if his luck doesn’t change.  Why?  The table below table compares the Defensive Runs Save (DRS) by infield position between the Cleveland Indians and the Baltimore Orioles in 2014.

Infield Defensive Runs Saved in 2014
Whereas Cleveland has one of (if not the) worst infield defenses in all of baseball, Baltimore has one of the best.  Masterson’s skill set doesn’t fit well in Cleveland, but his skillset is much better suited in Baltimore.

3.  He provides the Baltimore rotation with characteristics they lack

Currently constructed, the Baltimore rotation does two things that you generally want out from pitchers very poorly: strike batters out and get ground balls (they rank 28th in both categories).  These two things are what Masterson does best (he would easily lead the Baltimore rotation in both categories), which is especially important in the AL East, where 4 out of 5 ballparks benefit hitters.

4.  He provides his own back up plan

Even if he continues to struggle in the rotation, he can always be a force out of the bullpen, which is an area the team is also looking to fortify before the trade deadline.  Despite his struggles this year, he’s still has given right-handed batters trouble, holding them to a .214/.350/.304) triple slash line (.305 wOBA), not too far off his career levels of .215/.303/.293 (.274 wOBA).  Additionally, he has experience pitching out of the bullpen as recently as last year, when Cleveland used him in high leverage relief situations during their run to the playoffs.  Granted he was there because of an injury to his oblique, but it wouldn’t be his first time pitching out of the bullpen if he ended up there.


Obviously there are aspects to Justin Masterson that would make his acquisition a risky one.  As we stated before, he has not had a good season.  Bad luck aside, the increase in his walk rate is troubling, and putting him in a rotation with Ubaldo Jimenez could lead to a lot of base runners, which is obviously not a good strategy to employ when trying to win ballgames.  Additionally, Masterson has seen an increase in his LD% this year, which could indicate that he’s getting hit harder than normal.  Finally (and perhaps most troubling) is that his velocity this year is down across the board by a full 2-3 mph.  He’s currently on the disabled list from knee inflammation, and it’s unknown as to whether that contributed to his loss of velocity this year, but it’s certainly possible.  He’s scheduled to come off the DL on Friday, so Baltimore (or any other interested team for that matter) won’t be able to see him pitch in a major league game prior to the deadline, which is risky business.

A trade for Justin Masterson is certainly not without risk, especially considering the fact that he just spent most of the month of July on the disabled list.  But, if they can verify that he’s healthy, I think he’s a risk worth taking.  Of the pitchers currently available on the trade market, he has the highest potential to be the top of the rotation starter the Orioles so desperately need at a considerably lower cost in both dollars and prospects than any other option.  Adding Masterson not only strengthens the Orioles rotation (if healthy), but it strengthens the Orioles bullpen by allowing them to move Gonzalez and/or Norris there.  They could even deal one of them to address other needs at second base or catcher, as Jon suggested yesterday.  Worse case scenario, Masterson adds an effective righty to a bullpen that could certainly use the extra depth.


Unknown said...

To call the AL East weak this year is, in my opinion, a misstatement of fact. If you run the numbers no division in the league has more total wins than the AL East (273). When you break it down by win% in the AL it goes like this:

East W 273 L 260 WP%.513
Central W 262 L 264 WP%.498
West W 269 L 262 WP%.507

While the division might not have a dominant team such as the Red Sox or Yankees as in years prior, it is certainly not a weak division. In fact based on the numbers you could call it the best division in baseball.

Jon Shepherd said...

Mitchell...this sounds like my Twitter feed.

I agree. Writers keep calling it a weak division, but I think that is code for the Red Sox and Yankees not being in first.

Unknown said...

The 3 games that separate the east and west isn't much, so it depends how you want to look at how the divisions are constructed. Do you think the AL East is the tougher division because the team records are more closely bunched, or is the AL West tougher because they have the 2 best teams in baseball with a third 2 games out of the wild card?

Depending on who you ask, you may get two different answers. Combine that with the fact that nothing in the AL East has gone how anyone expected it would, and you get the strong perception that the AL East is weak (not necessarily fair). And yes, the fact that the Yankees or Red Sox aren't in first definitely adds to that.

Unknown said...

Could be a good pick up, and would likely cost very little. I know if they do this, sooo many O's fans are going to be up in arms "OMG HE SUCKS WHY DID WE GET HIM OMGOMGOMG GET PRICE GET LESTER GET BASEBALLJESUS". As mentioned though, the Cleveland defense is God awful. Like worst in baseball awful. I think he could help, and I hadn't really even considered the bullpen aspect either.

I've encountered two different kinds of O's fans lately. Those who think that every player on the team is irreplaceable and that you "dance with who brought you" and that "they are great guys with great clubhouse chemistry" and by inserting anyone else, the O's would be downgrading. Then you have those other fans that want to trade Flaherty and Hundley for David Price and don't understand why that doesn't happen. Thank you for making this blog.

Phil W. said...

And to the Cards he goes, so... on to the next deck chair...

Unknown said...

this post was useful for approximately 9 hours, which is a new record for me. glad i didnt hold onto it for another day!