The Buchholz-Masterson Sisters and the Battle for Chicago Ahead

Indians-Royals
Because we never want them to feel good about each other, we have a duty to never stop comparing Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz. So, it's time to put the question to rest: Which one is the prettier sister?

And...On Friday, the Sox get set to take on a diminished White Sox team. Fresh off trading designated hitter Jim Thome and starter Jose Contreras, Chicago seems to have mailed in the 2009 season.

But they won't make it so easy on the Sox, as Boston will go up against the heart of the White Sox rotation with matches against John Danks, Mark Buehrle, and Gavin Floyd. Are the boys in red up to the challenge?
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If you’ve been dissatisfied with Victor Martinez since he joined the Boston Red Sox, there is something wrong with you… OK. I’ll bite.
I’m dissatisfied with Victor Martinez.
It’s been almost impossible to argue with his production thus far: .313/.386/.500 at CATCHER. Five homeruns and fourteen walks in 126 plate appearances.
But Justin Masterson?
There’s a bad feeling going around that Justin Masterson will one day be the ballplayer incarnate of “the girl that got away.” The ONE. THE one with the scintillating combination of groundballs and strike outs. He upped his K-rate from 6.93 per 9 this season to 8.16, while dropping his walk rate to 3.77 per nine. 53.1 percent ground balls? You can’t find that combination anywhere.
TWO years of major league service time… and he’s still just 24!
In the spirit of full disclosure, I, more than anyone, am glad Theo finally put to rest his policy of never dealing his top pitching prospects. It was getting to the point where he seemed like an overprotective father. But Masterson was not the one to deal. This is the daughter you keep in on weekends because she’ll end up hanging with the wrong crowd or older boys.
93 mph four-seamer, 83-84 mph slider, 85-86 change-up, with an absolute bowling ball of a two-seamer.
I love Victor, but couldn’t we have given up someone else?
Bowden is great. Buchholz is better. In Boston, we’ve grown to fall in love with these names, treating them as saviors to the future of this team… but the true savior is gone.
The future Brandon Webb of the American League has left for Cleveland and isn’t coming back. We have a better shot seeing him in the ALCS this year than in a Boston uniform at any time the rest of his career.
By the way, Cleveland is 58-74 this season.
My only hope is that Cleveland held a hard line in negotiations and Masterson was the only player who could complete the deal for V-Mart. Then, and only then, will I be able to sleep comfortably.
Buchholz or Masterson? Masterson or Buchholz? Both incredible talents. Both with incredible futures ahead of them.
But, because they’re like sisters, we have a duty to never stop comparing them… and to never let them feel proud of themselves unless they’re the prettiest one. With that said, here’s how their plate discipline rates regress so far in 2009:
Justin Masterson
0.80 Contact Rate 0.273 O-Swing% 0.495 Zone %
Expected Rates: 7.000 K/9 3.265 BB/9
Clay Buchholz
0.789 Contact Rate 0.229 O-Swing% 0.513 Zone %
Expected Rates: 8.137 K/9 3.341 BB/9
At 24 and 25 years old, those are some pretty gaudy peripherals.
Perhaps Clay is the prettier sister. And maybe he’s ready for the big time after all.
But I will always miss Justin.
Series Preview
The upcoming series with the White Sox should serve as a reprieve from their recent matchups against playoff caliber competition. While Chicago is not yet completely out of the AL Central, sitting 6.5 back of Detroit, they’re doing their best to stay out of contention, sporting a cool 65-69 record.
They very recently waived the white flag as well, shipping Jim Thome to the Dodgers and Jose Contreras to the Rockies. The moves are a bit curious, especially since the ChiSox paid out millions just weeks ago to acquire both Alex Rios and Jake Peavy. But, hey, you can’t argue with a horrible August. Sometimes, fate just isn’t on your side, and it isn’t with the White Sox in 2009.
As a result, the White Sox will play host to the Red Sox in Chicago, sans Thome, sans Contreras, and sans inspiration. It’s a sad state of affairs in Chicago, but all the better for Boston. Chicago has one of the weakest offenses in the American League, ranking 11th in runs scored, 11th in OPS, and 11th in Slugging Percentage. Not a potent attack.
Now with Thome out of the lineup, Chicago’s lack of punch will be even more noticeable, especially considering that Chicago will replace Thome’s Hall of Fame bat with Scott Podsednik’s miniature toothpick. Were Boston’s rotation not so torn up, this series would be a no-contest.
Don’t Miss: 3B/SS Gordon Beckham
During this series, make sure to get a good look at young 3B/SS Gordon Beckham. The University of Georgia product was drafted eighth overall in 2008 and has seen a quick ascension to the majors with only 259 minor league plate appearances.
In 328 major league trips to the plate in 2009, Beckham has hit .272/.349/.446. He has a good sense of the strike zone, especially for a rookie, swinging at 25% of pitches outside the zone, with a 9.7% walk rate and 17.8 percent strikeout rate. Beckham has a great career ahead of him, so get a good look while Boston is in town.
Don’t Miss: Starting Pitcher John Danks
Lester’s matchup in Toronto last weekend should have had many more thrills and suspense. Unfortunately for the viewing public, it was over before it began, though he’ll make up for it by facing southpaw John Danks on Sunday, who is one of the best young lefties in the league. He’s had his share of struggles this year, posting a 4.32 FIP against a 3.82 ERA, after posting a 3.44 FIP and 3.32 ERA in 2008.
Danks has stopped throwing his slider this season, supplementing it with an increased use of his cut fastball, which was one of the main contributors to his breakout year in 2008. His cutter is easily his best pitch, with a 2.26 wCT/C. His other pitches haven’t been as effective as 2008, as his decreased success with the fastball has been a bit concerning. It’s velocity has dropped slighty, down to 90.6 mph from 91.3 mph, though this fluctuation is likely nothing to worry about.
Danks will come at the Sox with a four pitch mix of a 4-seam fastball, curve, change, and his signature cutter. He strikes out a good deal of batters, at 7.13 K/9. His walk rate is somewhat elevated this year, at 3.37 BB/9, due mostly to the fact that hitters are laying off his pitches outside the zone.
Don’t miss Danks when he pitches against the Red Sox. This is a great pitchers matchup that shouldn’t disappoint fans.
Game 1, Friday:
Matchup: The Byrd v. Freddy Garcia
Free Byrd, the elderly journeyman, faces off against, well, Garcia, the elderly journeyman. Steady Freddy is with his second team in 2009 on his second tour with the White Sox. Garcia has actually been better than advertised in short time this season, though posting a 5.94 ERA. His 13 strikeouts against 5 walks in 16.2 innings has been more than expected from a pitcher of his age and recent injury history.
Don’t expect too much from either pitcher. Byrd will be OK, though don’t pay expecting to see another shut out. This one’s difficult to predict, as there is almost zero sample size for either pitcher this season. But that’s a good thing – wild cards always make for more interesting games.
Both pitchers seem “sharp” in their own way, despite the time off. Garcia’s fastball is just where he left it in 2006, sitting at 89 mph. He’s got a four pitch mix of 4-seamer, slider, change, and splitter.
Should make for a good game, even if the headliners are nothing special. Think about the movie “Slackers“. No real stars, but it should be entertaining.
Final Score: White Sox: 4.561 Red Sox: 4.411
Game 2, Saturday:
Matchup: Junichi Tazawa v. Gavin Floyd
Gavin Floyd has always been somewhat of an enigma. He was once one of the best prospects in the Phillies system, though he flared out in every shot at the big leagues before leaving for Chicago in 2007.
Since then, his career has been about as good as it gets for “former prospects”. Still just 26 years old, he has found his form this season, posting a 3.97 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 7.58 K/9 and 2.85 BB/9. Floyd is certainly an asset to any rotation and his turnaround has been quite a surprise since his days in the Phillies organization.
At this point, Junichi Tazawa is what he is: a great prospect struggling because he was brought up too early. Don’t let Tazawa’s lack of success tarnish your opinion of him, as is often the case with young players who don’t perform immediately.
Don’t expect too much from him and you might not be let down, it should help that he’s going against one of the weakest attacks in the American League.
Final Score: White Sox: 4.999 Red Sox: 4.142
Game 3, Sunday:
Matchup: Jon Lester v. John Danks
This is three weeks in a row where the Sox have a great matchup on a Sunday. Two young lefties with great stuff and plenty of strikeout ability. At this juncture in their careers, Lester is clearly the better pitcher, but you could say that about almost any pitcher in the majors other than maybe Tim Lincecum. Good game and a nice way to get through a Sunday.
Lester should have no problem taking care of the weak Sox lineup and Thome’s complete ineptitude against lefties wouldn’t have helped Chicago anyway.
Final Score: Red Sox: 4.553 White Sox: 2.884
Game 4, Monday:
Matchup: Josh Beckett v. Mark Buehrle
Beckett has really had a rough go of it lately as his home run problems have resurfaced. He’s been “as real as Radke” lately, but the weak White Sox offense should give him a break. Especially without Thome, this offense should be no problem for the struggling ace.
Buehrle has never been a sexy player, though he’s had a great career since breaking in back in 2000. He’s a workhorse in every sense of the word, topping 200 innings in every season since 2001. With a career 3.81 ERA and 4.18 FIP, he’s not quite the ace Chicago wants him to be, but consistency is always a welcome asset. Stingy on the free passes (career 2.04 BB/9), he pitches to contact and gets his fair share of groundballs. That’s my kind of pitcher. Too bad he draws the Sox ace, Josh Beckett.
Becket snaps out of his funk and delivers a quality start. The road to recovery isn’t always a long one.
Final Score: Red Sox: 4.721 White Sox: 3.501
I’m surprised my system likes Freddy Garcia more than both Mark Buehrle and John Danks, though I’m going to chalk this up to a small sample size for 2009. If I were to bet on it, I’d say the Sox take three in this series, as the teams will split the first two, with Boston taking games 3 and 4 fairly comfortably.
As we get towards the heart of September, every game gets more and more important. The Sox are still firmly in control of the AL Wild Card and Texas is a much bigger threat than Tampa. However, things will get interesting if Tampa can pull out a win Thursday.
As always, have a great weekend and I’ll see you again on Tuesday.

Categories: Clay Buchholz Gavin Floyd Jon Lester Josh Beckett Junichi Tazawa Mark Buehrle

4 Responses to “The Buchholz-Masterson Sisters and the Battle for Chicago Ahead” Subscribe

  1. Troy Patterson September 3, 2009 at 8:31 AM #

    I think you might be going a bit overboard here with your affection for Masterson. I liked him and the groundball rate was great, but he was never a great Brandon Webb comparison. Brandon Webb has had a groundball rate over 60% every year in the majors. Masterson has been in the low 50′s. 6-8% split is going to make a huge difference.
    I think Masterson will be a solid starter with a few plus seasons thrown in when his defense behind him is better, but I don’t think we’ll ever see him do what Webb did from 2003-2008.

  2. Joe September 3, 2009 at 9:39 AM #

    Just so we're clear with all the wonderful stuff you quote about his K rate and ground ball rate we're talking about the same Justin Masterson with a 4.76 ERA since the trade and one (1) quality start in five tries?
    Also (and you aren't the only one who does this) but if you think Masterson is so fabulous what makes you think Shapiro would have made the deal without Masterson? I mean, yeah, it'd be great if the Indians would just trade us their good players without asking for anything better than Charlie Zink in return but it's entirely possible that the Indians would like to be good someday.
    Basically your premise is "trade the young players, but not the good ones." For some reason you may want to note that the teams the Sox are dealing with are more interested in receiving the good players.

  3. Mike September 3, 2009 at 1:20 PM #

    I had a conversation about dealing prospects with my roommate earlier today, and of course Hanley came up. I think that he has made us, both as a team and a fan base, a little leery of dealing prospects. I hope that no one would undue that trade if we had the option, because with out it we couldnt have won in 07, but in addition to getting a ring out of it, its not like we're going to be squaring off against the Marlins in the world series anytime soon. Masterson might be a thorn for us someday, but you have to play to win today, and it would be a mistake not to pull in a titan like Martinez on the small chance that Masterson puts all together and becomes dominant.

  4. jvwalt September 3, 2009 at 2:00 PM #

    Stats can be useful, but they can also be overblown. You can choose the ones that bolster your case, and downplay others. Like, for instance, that 4.76 ERA for Masterson in Cleveland.
    Buchholz and Masterson are nowhere near comparable — Buchholz is already the better pitcher, and he has a ton more upside. Masterson has a huge platoon problem — the average left-hander hits him like an All-Star. Given his sidearm delivery, that's likely to continue.
    I like Masterson, but he's a back-of-the-rotation starter or useful reliever, nothing more. Buchholz has much better stuff. His adjustment to MLB has been rougher than Justin's, but in his last half-dozen starts, he's shown that he can be a top-line starting pitcher.