Justin Masterson Arrival Befits Cardinals’ Season


As you probably know by now, the St. Louis Cardinals traded AA outfielder James Ramsey to the Cleveland Indians Wednesday for 29-year-old starting pitcher Justin Masterson. The big right-hander will come off the disabled list on Friday, and is set to start Saturday evening at home against the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers are a heavily right-handed lineup, which is a good thing for Masterson and the Cardinals.

Here’s what Ben Badler, a scout who works for Baseball America had to say on Twitter about Ramsey:

One can surmise the meaning of “Indians profile” as a lack of high-end talent within their minor league system.

So, the Cardinals have acquired a pitcher who was an All-Star last season, but has had a more difficult path in 2014.  His WHIP (1.65), and walk rate, (12.4%), are second-worst among big league starters.

Justin Masterson’s strikeout rate is very good, 20.6 percent. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .355, which is quite high. The Indians have not been good defensively, sitting at -39 defensive runs saved on the infield. The Cardinals infield has saved 35 runs, according to DRS. General Manager John Mozeliak believes the better defense here will improve Masterson’s luck on balls in play, and thereby lead to better performance.

When the Tampa Bay Rays started the season without Jeremy Hellickson, and then lost Matt Moore in April to a torn ulnar collateral ligament, the club led the majors in most bullpen innings thrown. Since Michael Wacha exited on June 17th, the St. Louis Cardinals are last in the majors in innings pitched by their starters. The Cardinals desperately need some competent, relatively deep outings from somebody not named Wainwright or Lynn.

The bugaboo throughout the career of Justin Masterson has been his performance against left-handed hitters. In 2013, he did better than he ever has against them, holding them to a .697 OPS. He’s reverted to form, with lefty sticks posting a .935 OPS against Masterson this season. Essentially, he turns every lefty into Prince Fielder circa 2012. That was his first year on the Detroit Tigers, when he hit 30 home runs and had over 100 RBI’s. His OPS was .940.

The Cardinals have ten games left with Milwaukee, ten with Cincinnati, and six versus Pittsburgh. One can bet that the Brewers will get a heavy dose of Justin Masterson, if it can be arranged. Masterson has held right-handed bats to a .653 OPS. But all it takes is one or two mistakes to a Jay Bruce, a Gregory Polanco, or even a Scooter Gennett, to wreck an outing.

This move is a measured response to where the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves. They’ve shown loyalty to players who are struggling. They lost two starters in the middle of the season. They got a starting pitcher for a minor leaguer most teams weren’t asking about. If Justin Masterson can provide a handful of quality starts, the Cardinals improve their odds of making it to the post-season.