Justin Masterson hasn’t been effective at the big league level in a while, but the Dodgers will take a minor league flyer on the right-hander.
After a barrage of injuries to their pitching staff last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers learned that you can never have too many arms at your disposal. While the Boys in Blue are certainly hoping for a healthier season in 2017 (and it would be hard to imagine them cycling through 15 different starting pitchers again), they’re not taking any chances.
Masterson is more of a lottery ticket than reliable pitching depth, having not appeared in a major league game since 2015 and averaging a lackluster 83 ERA+ since 2012. He won’t be the Dodgers’ first line of defense against injury, however, and in the meantime they’ll see if they can’t coax some improved results out of the tall righty.
A second-round Red Sox draft pick in 2006, Masterson enjoyed an effective rookie season two years later pitching primarily out of the bullpen. He came into his own as a starter in 2011 for the Indians, posting a 3.21 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 2.43 K/BB over 216 innings. Masterson would provide the Tribe with quality innings for the next two seasons before things started going awry.
A knee injury limited Masterson to 128.2 frames split between the Indians and Cardinals in 2014, over which he produced an ugly 5.88 ERA and 1.63 WHIP. He attempted to get back on track the following year after returning to Boston, but a 5.61 ERA in 18 appearances (nine starts) led to an August release.
Masterson spent all of 2016 in the Pirates minor league system, and the numbers weren’t too encouraging there either. Between the Advanced-A and Triple-A levels, he put up a 4.85 ERA, 1.57 WHIP and 1.38 K/BB over 59.1 innings in a swingman role. While it might have been nice to see what Pirates pitching wizard Ray Searage could have done with Masterson, his minor league performances never warranted a call-up.
Now the Dodgers will take a turn trying to solve the Justin Masterson puzzle. Though it seems like he’s been around for a while, he turned 32 last week, so he’s by no means long in the tooth just yet. Health issues have taken their toll, including the aforementioned knee injury as well as the shoulder surgery he underwent during the 2015 offseason.
As a result, Masterson has experienced a noticeable decline in velocity. His trademark sinker averaged 91-93 mph at its peak, but slipped to just 86.8 in 2015. It was reportedly back up to around 89 last year. Regardless, he’s going to have to figure out how to pitch effectively with diminished stuff.
While Rich Hill‘s renaissance had already begun before he joined the Dodgers, his story is probably the ideal (if unlikely) scenario for Masterson: a struggling pitcher with an injury history on the wrong side of 30 who suddenly puts it all together. It’s an obvious long shot, but on a minors deal it doesn’t hurt to try.
If Masterson gets called up at some point, it means that either a plethora of things went wrong for the big league club, or he earned it by impressing in the minors. The Dodgers will hope for the latter. With Scott Kazmir recently announced to start the season on the DL, a little extra insurance isn’t a bad idea.
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