Is Justin Masterson Better Suited to Be a Starter or Reliever?

Is Justin Masterson Better Suited to Be a Starter or Reliever? Since leaving Boston, Justin Masterson hasn't had an easy go of things.

The former Red Sox reliever was shipped to Cleveland at the trade deadline in 2009 in a package for Victor Martinez, and almost immediately, the Indians organization turned the versatile right-hander into a starter. Prior to being sent to Cleveland, Masterson had made 31 starts in parts of two seasons; in the final two months of 2009, he made 10 starts for the Indians.

And despite Masterson's talent, things didn't really go as planned. Over the remainder of his 2009 season, Masterson went 1-7 with a 4.55 ERA, throwing 57 1/3 innings and allowing 56 hits. 

Masterson has long advocated for one consistent role instead of being shuffled from the starting rotation to the bullpen and back again — but maybe the bullpen is where he should have stayed.

Forget the fact that Masterson's sinker was perfect for ending those late-game rallies with men on base, inducing hitters into ground balls that could, in Masterson's own words, "get two outs with one pitch at a crucial time." The numbers themselves also seem to indicate that Masterson was better suited to a bullpen role.

In the early part of the 2009 season, Masterson was one of the most promising assets in a Red Sox bullpen that was widely considered to be the best in baseball — but with Daisuke Matsuzaka struggling with injuries coming off a World Baseball Classic championship, Masterson was thrust into the starting rotation after three appearances as a reliever. During that six-game stint in the rotation, he went 2-2 with a 4.58 ERA.

When Matsuzaka returned to action, it was back to the bullpen for Masterson — and for the majority of the remainder of his time in Boston, that is where he shined.

Masterson went back to the bullpen on May 22. From then until June 27, he appeared in 11 games, pitching 17 2/3 innings and allowing three earned runs. His opponents' batting average was .226, his ERA was 1.53 and he notched 15 strikeouts.

After a bit of an implosion against Baltimore on June 30 in which he allowed five runs in two innings, he embarked on yet another impressive streak that was marred by one rocky outing against Kansas City on July 11. In his final four appearances in a Red Sox uniform, Masterson was at his best, posting a 0.00 ERA in seven innings of work with eight strikeouts and a .087 opponents' batting average.

Although Masterson ended his first stint in Cleveland on a high note, throwing a complete-game four-hitter to close out his season on Sept. 30, his time as a starter was mediocre. Could some of that be attributed to the fact that he doesn't have a great team backing him up? Maybe. But whereas Masterson seemed consistently dominant coming out of the bullpen during his career, he has yet to show any consistent success as a starter.

Regardless, manager Manny Acta seems committed to keeping Masterson in the rotation.

"You look at his size [6-foot-6, 250 pounds] and his stuff and what’s not to like?" Acta told The Associated Press during spring training. "He’s going to have some ups and downs. All young pitchers do, but he’s one who can give us some big ups and be a workhorse."

This season, Masterson is 1-5 with a 5.46 ERA. Of his 11 starts, just four of them have been quality starts. It's early, and maybe Masterson just needs time to find his groove on a very young team that has struggled mightily from the outset. 

Or maybe he should have stuck with relief pitching.

What you think the former Red Sox is better suited for?

Share your thoughts below. The best comments will be read on NESN's Red Sox GameDay Live or Red Sox Final.

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