End Of Season Grades: Starting Pitchers

Today begins a two week, end of season grade and breakdown by each position. Certainly after the wild ride the 2011 Cleveland Indians took fans on, grades, projections and areas of improvement are all sought for 2012, with the goal being a playoff team next season. Today, we examine the mainstays of the 2011 starting rotation.

Justin Masterson
12-10, 3.21 ERA, 216 IP, 65 BB, 158 K’s
Grade: A

Masterson, who entered the year as a middle of the rotation starter, quickly grew into the staff ace by the summer months. I would be the first to admit when they acquired him from Boston for Victor Martinez, I thought it was a great mistake to make him a starting pitcher. He had already had success in the Boston bullpen and I thought he could be a clutch eighth or ninth inning arm. Certainly, growing in to a front of the rotation starter raises his value for now and years to come.

The Big Nasty’s record is a little deceiving since he received very little run support in the summer months, when the Indian offense began to suffer injuries and really was at their worst. During May and June the Indian offense only gave Masterson eight runs of support in 11 starts. He was 0-6, with only a 3.34 ERA over the two month offensive draught. Had he received some support during the summer heat, Masterson could have easily been a 16-18 game winner.

It would be safe to assume Masterson to be the staff ace and Opening Day starter when the Tribe is back on the field against the Toronto Blue Jays next April 5, but his real test will be to see if he can build upon the great season he had in 2011. After a third straight season of a earning a career high in innings pitched, he looked tired at the end of the season. With higher expectations for himself and the team, Masterson will be expected to be strong and pitch deep into September and October in 2012. This season Masterson labored mightily in his final two starts and in 2010, he was moved to the bullpen for the final weeks of the season.

Finally, in becoming a true staff ace, you have to believe he needs to develop another pitch to survive as a starting pitcher. Masterson threw fastballs 84.4% of the time this season, and his slider almost the remainder of the time (14.9%). Fausto Carmona did much of the same in 2007 when he dominated the American League, however, he has never been able to find that dominance again. It doesn’t matter how nasty of a pitch you have, if major league hitters know it is coming, eventually they will hit it.
Ubaldo Jimenez
10-13, 4.68 ERA, 188.1 IP, 78 BB, 180 K’s
Grade: D

Acquired by the Indians at the trade deadline, Jimenez was expected to be the dominant arm to make a 1-2 tandem with Masterson down the stretch and into the future. Jimenez did not meet the expectations of the Tribe, however, going 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA after being acquired from Colorado for Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, the Indians two top pitching prospects.

The Indians traded for the pitcher who dominated the National League in the first half of 2010 for the Colorado Rockies, but Jimenez had a tough season before and after the trade. Jimenez admits to being out of shape entering spring training because he did not go through his regular offseason routine due to an injury at the end of 2010. Before an embarrassing defeat in his final start of the season, it appeared that Jimenez had found some consistency and rhythm in the last month. From August 26 to September 21, Jimenez was 3-2, with a 3.20 ERA, with one defeat being a tough luck loss to Detroit when Victor Martinez hit a three run homer on his only mistake of the game.

Despite his worst year as a major leaguer, the Indians will most likely expect Jimenez to be their second starter behind Masterson in 2012. They’ll want the pitcher they hoped they had traded for in late July, and despite his struggles, it’s a fair expectation to have. The Indians have been known in the past to refine and retool pitcher’s mechanics. If Jimenez gets back on his regular offseason schedule and finds consistency in his mechanics, he can again become a front of the rotation starter. In order for the Indians to become a serious contender, he will have to return to the Ubaldo Jimenez of old.

Two specific things Jimenez will have to improve is his pitch count and defeating the Tigers. Jimenez, part of the by-product of being a strikeout pitcher, finds himself around the 100 pitch mark in the fifth and sixth inning too often. If he is going to dominate again, he has to get deeper into games before hitting the century mark on the nightly odometer.
Josh Tomlin
12-7, 4.25 ERA, 165.1 IP, 21 BB, 89 K’s
Grade: B

Winning the fifth starter’s job out of spring training this season, Tomlin may have become the most consistent pitcher in the rotation for much of the year, guaranteeing the Tribe at least a tough, gritty five inning start every time he took the mound.

Tomlin, who doesn’t have as dominant of stuff as Masterson, Jimenez or Carmona, makes due with what he has, throwing four pitches consistently in the strike zone and getting hitters out. While he is never going to blow a fastball by his opponent, he will also never find himself in trouble due to a lack of control or walks.

Tomlin’s consistency may be his weakness also, as he is around the plate all the time and susceptible to the home run ball. Tomlin allowed 24 home runs in 26 starts this season. Tomlin was also about to eclipse his career high in innings pitched as a professional when he was injured in late August. He will also have to come to spring training physically ready to pitch 200 innings, if the Indians plan to win the Central Division in 2012.

He’ll never be the ace of a staff, but he will always be a pitcher who gives the Tribe a chance to win each time he takes the mound. He’s this generation’s Charles Nagy or Jake Westbrook. These are the kind of guys who won’t necessarily win the World Series for you, but you can’t win it without their help to get you there.
Fausto Carmona
7-15, 5.25 ERA, 188.2 IP, 60 BB, 109 K’s
Grade: D-

This season’s Opening Day starter had a season that was a microcosm of his entire career, inconsistent. After being bombed by the Chicago White Sox on Opening Day, Carmona struggled through the entire first half and probably found himself on the verge of losing his spot in the rotation before injuring himself running to first base in Cincinnati.

After a 15-day disabled list stint, Carmona returned with a new approach and solid mechanics again, as he was a tough pitcher to beat in the second half of July and August, however, September would bring much of the same problems he experienced in the first half of the season.

Carmona has never been able to find the dominance he had in 2007, and to hope it would return for 2012, seems to be a stretch. At some point the Indians and fans have to accept Carmona for what he is, a pitcher who can be as good as anyone at times, and as poor as anyone at others.

Taking his inconsistencies into account, Carmona finds himself being one of the five biggest questions the Indians will face this offseason, what will the Tribe do with his $7 million option for the 2012 season? Can the Indians find someone to fill his spot in the rotation who is more consistent? Can they find a veteran of greater value for the same price?


Carlos Carrasco
8-9, 4.62 ERA, 124.2 IP, 40 BB, 85 K’s
Grade: C-

Carrasco, slated as the second starter when the season opened, pitched like an ace at times and also like a pitcher who shouldn’t be in the big leagues at times. Unfortunately, for the Indians his season was cut short and he will have to have Tommy John surgery, ending his 2012 season before 2011 had even finished.

When the Phillies traded him to Cleveland in the Cliff Lee trade, they loved his stuff as a pitcher but questioned if his mental make up would hold him back at the major league level. So far, the Phillies have been correct in their assessments of the young right hander.

After a minor arm problem that landed him on the disabled at the end of April, Carrasco went 7-3 on the mound in May and June, battling to keep the Indians in games when their offense was beginning to falter. However, as calendar turned to July, Carrasco lost command and control of his fastball and lost that dominance he had in the prior two months.

By the beginning of August, he had been placed on the disabled list. By the beginning of September, it had been announced that his season, and next season were over. It is easy to point to the loss of velocity and command as the beginning of his arm problems, but the mental make up, throwing at hitters, creating a bench clearing brawl and being suspended for six games is not how to handle adversity. If Carrasco is to help Indians at any point in the future, he’ll have to get his arm healthy, but his mind right.

The loss of Carrasco for 2012 opens quite a contest for the fifth starters spot. A spot that could be filled by a free agent, or any of the spot starters used this season. Tomorrow, we’ll analyze those spot starters and their contributions this season.


Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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