The St. Louis Cardinals have added Justin Masterson to their rotation. The new team should be good for the right-hander, as Jeff Sullivan wrote on the non-fantasy side. Bernie Miklasz, long-time, reputable Cards beat guy and columnist, highlighted many of the same reasons. Potential positives:
- Masterson moves from perhaps the worst defensive team to perhaps the best
- If his knee is sound, which it reportedly is, then his command, velocity, etc. should rebound
In general, Masterson seems to be in a much better position to rebound for fantasy owners already. All he’s had to do is spend nearly four weeks on the disabled list and then pack his bags.
There are other things that Masterson’s new organization could look to do with him which could improve his outlook as well. Miklasz notes St. Louis GM John Mozeliak’s comment about the pitcher’s struggles with walks: “We feel it’s more mechanical than physical.” If a knee injury affected Masterson’s season-to-date performance, then it could have been a factor in related aspects such as mechanics, command and velocity. But for whatever reasons he’s arrived there, the staff believes it’s also pinpointed how. In addition, the Cardinals may have picked up a difference Masterson’s usage patterns, which could help him to alleviate other issues.
Masterson would indeed seem to be doing something different, mechanically, just with a few simple examinations of his PITCHf/x data. His vertical release point has dropped noticeably this season compared to the previous two. Probably not just coincidentally, his control has suffered in general this year. Whether health was a factor in the drop and it led to compensation in his delivery, the Cards seem to be confident that they have determined how to correct it immediately.
Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway’s philosophy seems to be more general than that of the Cardinals as a whole. St. Louis’ is a product of years of evolution. Results suggest similarities, however. Like the Cards, the Indians have relied on sinking fastballs or two-seamers more than most clubs in the majors in the last two years (on the two pitches combined, Cleveland ranks sixth of 30 teams; St. Louis, fourth). The Indians have relied heavily on the strikeout; they lead the bigs in K% for the past two years. The Cards have become increasingly willing to rely that method, too, it’d seem, according to research from this blogger. Of course, it’s possible that some of these things are personnel- and not philosophy-related, but the outcomes of K’s are good for the defense.
Masterson should feel comfortable in his Cardinals uni, then. He’d feel even more so if the club helped him to neutralize left-handed hitters. He’s rarely thrown his changeup, a pitch that in its limited life has coaxed a SwStr% well below the benchmark to be average, but at least it nets grounders at an acceptable rate. The Cards don’t preach the pitch but have more than a few hurlers who are successful with it, most notably the disabled Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness and Pat Neshek, the latter pair being heavy sinkerballers, like Masterson. It’s possible that the Cards will help Masterson to improve his changeup, an equalizer against lefty swingers.
If Masterson’s control improves, either through repair of his mechanics or via return to health alone or both, then the Cardinals may simply push him to change his usage. The club hasn’t been much of a proponent of the slider in recent seasons, and that view is likely related to long-term health concerns. The affering has been a regular tool in Cleveland and one of Masterson’s best weapons, though.
Last year, his career best, in part because of his success against left-handed hitters, saw Masterson throw the pitch more than a quarter of the time, more frequently than in his past several seasons. If his command and control are in order, then he could be working while ahead more often than he was with Cleveland this season and thus in position to throw the slider much more often. St. Louis has the luxury to view Masterson as a rental because the righty is in his walk year, so his long-term health doesn’t have to be their utmost concern.
Masterson’s move to St. Louis is undoubtedly a positive, and a return to health would be as well, for him and his fantasy owners. It has the potential to be better than those things alone would entail, too.
Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.