Following a disastrously poor 2012 season, Tribe right-hander Justin Masterson, who posted career highs in walk rate (3.84 BB/9) and ERA (4.93), has rebounded quite nicely this season. The club’s ace de facto ranks 19th in FanGraphs’ version of WAR with 3.3, 13th in strikeout rate (8.98 K/9), and lead’s all of baseball with an absurd 58.5% groundball rate.

Even with his subpar 2012 season, Masterson ranks among the game’s more productive starting pitchers. Since 2010, he’s posted a 3.88 ERA and is set to surpass the 200-inning mark for the third consecutive season. His fWAR total during that stretch ranks in the top 25 among pitchers, with 9.4, ahead of several bigger named players like former Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, Edwin Jackson, and Yovani Gallardo.

Masterson, who’s making a little over $5.5 million in his second go-round in arbitration and is under team control through the end of 2014, has positioned himself for quite a nice payday in the coming year or so.

So, what’s it going to take to keep the Jamaican-born hurler in the Cleveland area? And, more importantly, is he going to be worth it?

First, let’s look at his contemporaries who have signed free agent deals in the last several years:

Player

Ages

IP

K/9

BB/9

ERA

xFIP

fWAR

Contract

$/Yr

Justin Masterson

26-28

604.2

7.4

3.3

3.88

3.71

9.4

N/A

N/A

Edwin Jackson

26-28

598.2

7.5

3.0

4.10

3.74

9.2

4 Yrs/$52M

$13M

Anibal Sanchez

26-28

587.0

8.1

2.8

3.70

3.40

11.5

5 Yrs/$88M

$17.6M

John Lackey

28-30

563.2

7.2

2.2

3.48

3.86

10.6

5 Yrs/$82.5M

$16.5M

 

Obviously, Masterson’s almost a spot-on match for Edwin Jackson’s performances from 2010-2012, which led to his big free agent deal with the Cubs last season. But his numbers really aren’t too far off of Anibal Sanchez’s and John Lackey’s either.

What will hurt Masterson, however, is his clunker 2012. Neither Lackey nor Sanchez had down years within the three previous seasons of signing their respective deals, though the former did have some elbow issues.

So, basically Masterson has positioned himself for a deal somewhere in the neighborhood of four years and $56 million or so after his contract expires in 2014.

And now for the second part of the question: would he be worth that kind of dough?

First, Masterson has averaged about 0.1 fWAR per start since 2011, which makes that roughly 3.5 wins above replacement in a full year. Given his age, 28-years-old now, he’s likely not going to hit any type of decline for another three years or so.

Using a quick back-of-the-envelope estimation, here’s how Masterson’s overall production is going to look from 2015 through 2018 along with the current value for a win plus 5% inflation:

Season

Age

fWAR

$/WAR (in millions)

Total $ Value in Production (in millions)

2015

30

3.5

5.5

19.3

2016

31

3.0

5.8

17.3

2017

32

3.0

6.1

18.2

2018

33

2.5

6.4

15.9

(Note: This is using the standard Bell Curve for player regression.)

Adding it all up and Masterson’s total production should fall to somewhere in the neighborhood just over $70 million.

And while it looks like he’s going to get underpaid, this provides some added security for the Indians in case of injury, a down year, etc.

Make no mistake about it Justin Masterson is going to get paid!

For more analysis — like a look at the Indians’ top prospects — check out Joe’s site: www.ProspectDigest.com

6 Comments

  • DaveR says:

    If the Indians are serious about competing, and I would think they are after spending this off season, then pay the man. If Salazar is the closest to a glimpse of an ace. The other guys are 2nd tier or have no future with the team.

    • shaun says:

      are you kidding me? what makes you think mcallister and kluber are going to be career 2nd tier pitchers. they’re effectively in their second seasons and have shown marked improvement in each year. i kinda-sorta agree with you regarding kazmir and jimenez (esp at the rates they are (and will) command). but to write off zach and corey is wrong.

  • Sean Porter says:

    If I were the Indians I’d offer him a contract around what Jackson got after this season. If he refused, I’d roll with him for next year and keep him all season and take the first round pick when he leaves, or trade him for prospects at the deadline.

    The Indians are not financially able to offer a 5 year or longer contract to a pitcher. Way too dangerous of a proposition. I love Masterson, but if he wouldn’t bite on a 4 year deal, I’d let him walk.

  • Sean Porter says:

    I actually think Kluber is somewhat underrated by Tribe fans. I’ll admit, for some reason I pigeon-holed him early in the season as another “JAG” (Just Another Guy) along the lines of a Josh Tomlin, but he throws 95 and puts up very impressive K/BB ratios. I think he could be a solid top of the rotation guy sooner than later.

    More reason, along with Salazar and McAllister I’d be reluctant to back a Brinks truck up for Masterson.

    • Cale Tesch says:

      I think he was “JAG” because his minor league numbers were so uninspiring. I’m not sure what got into him this year, but in 140 starts in the minors he’s had a 4.42 ERA / 1.40 WHIP and 2.54 K/BB. This year with Cleveland he’s at 3.54 ERA / 1.12 WHIP / 4.46 K/BB. I really hope he figured something out, but I still can’t shake this feeling he might regress a little next year.

      But, to your point, if he does keep it up next year, it would make losing Masterson a little easier.

      • Sean Porter says:

        Yeah, his whole emergence is odd. He’s older than usual for his experience level in the bigs, and his minor league stats were less than inspiring.

        But the guy can hit the mid-90s, has good control/command and strikes out nearly a batter an inning. The guy is a pitcher, not a thrower.

        Maybe he was just a late bloomer? His stuff + intangibles seem to be of a guy who would have been heavily hyped (like Alex White, Drew Pomeranz) but he didn’t have a great minor league career. Weird.