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Justin Masterson Cleveland

Throughout the week, RotoBaller experts will highlight rising or falling players and provide analysis to help you win your league.  This pick, Justin Masterson, is high on our Waiver Wire Watch List.

Justin Masterson (SP, CLE): Masterson had been masterful in his first few starts of 2013, to the tune of a 3-0 record with a 0.41 ERA, before coming back down to Earth against a tough Boston team on Wednesday.  He's an extreme ground-ball pitcher with a proven track record of keeping the ball in the park, having never allowed more than 1.0 HR/9 in any season during his professional career.  Historically, Masterson has absolutely dominated right-handed hitting, and he's building on that in 2013, striking out on average 12 of every 27 right-handed hitters he faces.  His bugaboo has always been lefties, though, and they continue to give him problems-- he's striking lefties out at a rate less than half of what he posts against righties.

The most interesting aspect of Masterson's development thus far in 2013 has been his fastball velocity, which PITCHf/x data has at about 2.1 mph faster than it was in 2012.  This is an absolutely huge jump for the 28-year-old pitcher, and it makes all of his secondary pitches that much more effective.  At his age, since pitchers tend to hit their prime a little later than hitters, this could well portend a substantial breakout for Masterson.  If he can maintain that velocity enough to improve his performance against left-handed hitting, Masterson could well be poised to post huge gains across the board in his rate stats, while contributing to the strikeout and Wins columns as well.  If he's somehow available on your waiver wire, go ahead and snag him with confidence.  If other owners are trying to pry him away from you, make sure you get fair value in return.  There's no doubt that his ERA and WHIP will increase from their present levels, but there's good reason to believe he could put up very solid season numbers around 15 W and 7.5+ K/9 with an ERA under 4.00.

RotoBaller's goal is to help you win your fantasy baseball leagues, and Justin Masterson looks right now like a guy who could go a long way toward achieving that goal for you.  He probably won't contend for a Cy Young award in 2013, in large part because he issues far too many free passes.  But he's going to be a guy you can confidently run out there more often than not, and he'll probably put up solid numbers for a #6-type fantasy starting pitcher.  With his next start coming up in Chicago, he's a decent option to activate, considering his solid numbers against most of the projected White Sox lineup.  Masterson will have his blow-ups, but if he can keep them to days like he had in Boston this week rather than days like Bud Norris had in Oakland, he will be a very, very solid fantasy contributor for your team.

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