What Should Justin Masterson Do?

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"Masterson the Masterful" via www.sittingstill.net

Yesterday's win over New York was awesome, but it was far from certain. In the 7th, the Yankees loaded the bases against Manny Delcarmen, or, more appropriately, MDC loaded them for the Yankees. With one out, Justin Masterson emerged from the pen to face A-Rod. A mere two pitches later, Rodriguez grounded into a double play, enraging NYY fans (see this thread on Pinstripe Alley for their reactions) and wasting their best chance to get back into the game. You can watch A-Rod's AB on video here, after about a million two commercials. Leaving the gloating and crowing aside, Masterson's success raises an important question for the Sox - should he start or relieve next season?

Masterson has been very valuable to this team, both as a starting pitcher and as a reliever. Splits:
JM, starter: 54 IP, 9 starts, 3.67 ERA, 28 BB, 8 HR, 39 Ks, 7 Hit-by Pitch.
JM, reliever: 17 IP, 14 appearances, 1.89 ERA, 4 BB, 1 HR, 18 Ks, 0 HBP.
Overall: 73 IP, 23 games, 3.21 ERA, 4.76 FIP, 32 BB, 9 HR, 57 Ks.

Starting games, Masterson has danced into and out of trouble. He's walked more than one batter every two innings, and given up a homer almost every six innings. He even hit 7 batters. These should have added up to more runs and a higher ERA . But Masterson's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) as a starter was .216, a sign that he was lucky: balls in play were not going in for hits. We might attribute some of this to JM's extreme ground ball tendencies (52.2% GB rate) eliciting weak contact, but even then it seems low and lucky.

Since his conversion to a reliever, Masterson has been significantly better. Walks are way down (4 BB in 17 IP), as are homers and hit batsmen. Ks are way up - 18 in 17 IP. Amazingly, his BABIP as a reliever is right about average at .300, which reinforces the flukiness of his starter BABIP.

When I started this piece, I planned to argue that Masterson should return to the rotation. However, what evidence we have, and it is a small sample of games, suggests JM should be relieving next season. His pitching has been far smoother as a reliever, with better control (few BBs and HBP) and fewer longballs.

Perhaps Masterson could pitch well as a starter next season, but I'm not convinced. His overall Fielding Independent Pitching (4.76) is substantially higher than his ERA (3.21). FIP is based on what a pitcher controls - BBs, Ks, HRs, HBPs - and accordingly JM's FIP would be higher in starts than it is in relief. It seems the move to the pen allows JM to throw harder and control the ball better, and we shouldn't mess with that.

But enough of my thoughts. Where would you like to see Masterson next year? The starting rotation? The pen? Pawtucket? What are your expectations for him next year? Leave a comment below, and vote in the poll.

Bonus: An area in which Justin Masterson does NOT help the team is diversity. I'm talking, of course, about names. Given their roster, the Red Sox should be renamed the J-Sox: Josh, Jon, Jonathan, Jed, Julio, Jason (Tek), Jason (Bay), Jacoby, Jeff (Bailey), Javier, Joe (Thurston). This season of Red Sox baseball was brought to you by the letter J.

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