Well, Justin Masterson is gone. And while he had some nice moments here in Cleveland, I couldn’t be happier to see him go.
Masterson’s peaks and valleys (so perfectly illustrated by the chart below, showing his game score from every start he made in Cleveland) turned him into one of the most polarizing figures in recent Indians history.
But on the other end of the spectrum were the Masterson haters (which often included myself), who focused on his infuriating inconsistency and inability to throw strikes. To this group, Masterson’s career will always be remembered for his wildness, demonstrated perfectly by the fact that, despite ranking 40th in franchise history in innings pitched, he hit more batters than every Tribe pitcher aside from George Uhle.
I’ve always felt that those who supported Masterson were still shell shocked from the offensive numbers of baseball’s steroid era. We became so used to appreciating anyone with an ERA under 4.50, that when Masterson’s occasionally dipped below 3.00 we were in awe.
But Masterson debuted well after the steroid era, and as a result his stats in Cleveland were ordinary at best.
The statistic ERA+ normalizes ERA based on the era (using league averages as a comparison) and by ballpark factors (to account for differences in places like Coors Field). Looking at Masterson’s numbers through the lens of ERA+ tells a shockingly different story than his raw statistics.
Among pitchers with at least 100 starts in Cleveland, only the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona posted a worst ERA+ than Masterson’s 92 (100 would be perfectly average).
Baseball-Reference also provides us a fun tool that allows us to adjust a player’s stats based on the league averages and ballpark factors from different seasons, effectively answering questions such as: how many home runs would Ruth have hit if he played in the 1990s.
So what if Masterson debuted 10 years earlier in the heart of the steroid era?
Assuming Masterson played his first full year in Cleveland in 2000, instead of 2010, here is Baseball-Reference’s estimation of his stats with the Tribe:
How differently would fans feel about Masterson if his ERA topped 6.00 not once but twice? While I’m sure we would still have appreciated the peaks, when the valley drops so painfully low, I’m not sure the fan base would be so forgiving.
Don’t believe me? Well, tell me how you feel about Dave Burba.
Now go back and check out Burba’s stats from 1998 through 2001 (4.65 ERA). How do you feel about Masterson’s adjusted numbers now?
To further evaluate Masterson’s Tribe career, I used Baseball-Reference’s Similarity Score formula to determine his closest comparisons (Similarity Score makes no attempt to level the playing field, so players tend to compare most favorably to players from similar eras).
So how will you remember Masterson? As the occasional ace? Or as the wild, ineffective and disappointing former prospect? Chime in with your thoughts in the comments section…