In honor of Justin Masterson’s sixth start of the season, I thought I would take a minute to analyze his amazing April performance and compare it to other hot starts by Indians starting pitchers. Masterson is in great company; there are only two other pitchers since 1955 to win their first five starts with an ERA below 2.20 – Cliff Lee in 2008 and Bob Lemon in 1955.
For those unfamiliar with Bob Lemon, he was a right-handed pitcher with the Indians from 1941 until 1958 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976. He won 20 games seven different times in his career, and also managed the New York Yankees to their 1978 World Series championship. Lemon notched his fifth win of the 1955 season on April 30; during his streak he had a 2.08 ERA and 23 strikeouts. What was most impressive about his streak is that four of his five victories resulted in complete games. Lemon finished the season 18-10 with an ERA of 3.88.
Cliff Lee’s 2008 performance is easily the most impressive of the three. During his first five games, he only allowed a total of four earned runs; three of which came in just one game against Seattle. Lee finished the month of April with a 0.96 ERA and 32 strikeouts. He also won his sixth game of the year against the New York Yankees; he allowed zero earned runs and dropped his ERA to 0.81. Lee finished the season with a 22-3 record and a 2.54 ERA and was awarded the American League Cy Young award. Lee, who came to the Indians organization in 2002 as part of the Bartolo Colon trade, left the team in 2009 when he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Justin Masterson earned his fifth win on April 26 against the Kansas City Royals. Prior to this game, his ERA was under 2; it climbed to 2.18 after his fifth victory. Masterson also accumulated 22 strikeouts during his win streak. Who knows where the season will take Masterson, but the streak could be in danger this afternoon. He appears a bit shaky early against the Detroit Tigers today – he’s struggling to locate his pitches (he’s already thrown 42 pitches in just two innings) and the Indians are down 2-0.
Edit: Masterson obviously turned it around and gave a solid performance. Even though he earned the no decision, he remained in the game until the 8th inning, allowing 2 earned runs and throwing 120 pitches.