Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Masahiro Tanaka may be making all of the headlines, but two (considerably more cost-friendly) members of the Cleveland Indians are receiving prase as potential breakout players by certain scribes at ESPN.com: starting pitchers Corey Kluber and Justin Masterson
David Schoenfield of the dot com’s SweetSpot baseball blog praised Kluber for his solid 2013 season which included the sixth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the American League (4.1-1). To those who believe that Kluber may have merely been a flash in the pan, Schoenfield says au contraire.
He’s not just a finesse guy who lucked into a good year, as he owns a solid fastball (93.1 mph average velocity) and terrific curve. Batters hit .196 off it with just two home runs, 50 strikeouts and no walks.
While Kluber should provide more-than-adequate quality in the middle of the Indians’ rotation, Dan Szymboroski (who has also done spectacular work for FanGraphs) thinks Justin Masterson could have his name in the mix for the 2014 AL Cy Young.
By ERA, Masterson’s 2013 was not as strong as his career-best 2011, but there is one key difference: strikeout rate. From 2010 to 2012, his rate hovered at about 17 percent, but in 2013 it jumped up to 24.3 percent. Strikeout rates for pitchers tend to stabilize very quickly, much less prone to the lucky/unlucky runs that can sometimes plague other pitcher statistics, like BABIP and homers allowed.
A 30 percent boost in strikeout rate is nothing to laugh at — it was Scherzer’s jump from 8.0 K/9 to 11.1 K/9 in 2012 that set off my alarm — and all that’s missing for the grounder-heavy Masterson is a top-notch infield defense.
Somewhere on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, a front office is doing their best to ensure that this report doesn’t make its way to the all-but-impending arbitration hearing between them and Masterson. Reports are circulating that a multi-year contract with the Indians’ ace have not gone well. A free agent after this season (who happens to be asking for over $11 million for any one-year deal), if Masteron can play up to the expectations of Szymboroski, retaining him will prove to be an even higher hurdle.