By Jason Shetler
Free agent pitcher Justin Masterson agreed to sign a minor league deal with the Pirates on Thursday. The 31-year-old right-hander underwent surgery on his pitching shoulder in late September last year, which is why he hadn’t signed with anyone during the offseason or Spring Training. Here now is my assessment of the Masterson signing.
Masterson certainly fits the Pirates mold when it comes to bringing in pitchers who have fallen on hard times, but who’ve had success in the past. Just a few years ago, Masterson was an All-Star level pitcher with the Cleveland Indians. However, he’s had his struggles recently, posting a combined 5.75 ERA with an ERA+ of 71 in 2014 and 2015.
The one constant with Masterson, whether he’s been pitching good or pitching bad, has been the ability to induce a ton of groundballs. As a matter of fact, his groundball rate of 57% is actually the highest mark among active starting pitchers since 2010 (minimum 750 innings). Masterson has also done relief work in his career, so the Pirates could use him for either role, depending on the situation. Using him in the bullpen could be more ideal, as it would better the chances of showing increase in his fastball velocity, and possibly being brought in as a weapon to get groundballs like Jared Hughes.