Has Pittsburgh Pirates Starter Jeff Karstens Figured It Out?


As the time ticks away in this offseason for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the silence is deafening.  It seems

the Bucs are done making substantial moves.  The team struck the market early and have hit the cruise button since.

Is it ignorance on the Pirates behalf, a display of confidence in their talent or does it boil down to a lack of cash?  We personally feel it’s a lack of cash, but since we can’t prove that, we will go with the confidence argument and start looking at the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation.

Jeff Karstens is where we start because he is the most interesting to us.  Karstens was left for dead by the Bucs when he was waived in November of 2009 before the Rule 5 Draft.  At the time, the Pirates decided to add Ramon Aguero, outfielder Gorkys Hernandez along with Brad Lincoln and Bryan  Morris to their 40-man roster.   Right-handed pitcher Chris Jakubauskas was claimed off waivers from Seattle shortly after the move, in essence taking the spot Karstens had held.

The right-hander cleared waivers and was invited to spring training.  Looking back on all of it now, it’s hard to even imagine what would have happened if any of the teams in baseball would have plucked Karstens from the wire.  Thankfully, it didn’t happen and oh what difference a few years makes.

Heading into 2012, Karstens will be looked to improve upon a season in which he pitched an effective 162.1 innings putting up a 1.0 WAR.  FanGraphs also has Karstens at 3.38ERA with an xFIP of 4.00.  The right-hander who refused to die might actually make some sense for the new improved Pirates defense.  At least it appears better on paper.

The 29-year old has numbers that show he is becoming more of a ground ball pitcher after forcing over 46 percent of the bad guys to put a ball on the grass in 2012.

Although he gets little swing and miss, Karstens managed to strand the opposition on the base paths an above average 77 percent of the time.

The down side for the zombie last season was he gave up 22 home runs. The good news is that 20 of them were solo shots.

The 2012 Outlook:

Attitude:  Plus Plus.  No questions here for the 6’3″ 185 pounder.  He simply does what he is told.  It doesn’t hurt that he’s not afraid to be an assassian for his teammates.

Ability to improve:  We can thank MLB Network’s Al Leiter for Karstens ability to improve when it counts and close out innings.

Durability:  It was wise to shut down Karstens for two starts in September.  He increased his innings count from 122.2 in 2010 to 162.1 in 2011.  Can he put up the strong numbers again with the Pirates needing someone to pick up the innings load?

It’s very difficult to look at Karstens and see a workhorse type arm.  It simply hasn’t been shown to this point, but it isn’t something we see as completely unattainable even though Bill James is forecasting just 135 innings for the converted catcher in this upcoming season.

Injuries on the horizon:  We’ve seen him working his tail off in past spring trainings, but will his offseason workout regimen bring him to camp in top shape again in 2012?  Unless we see Karstens in a few weeks with 15 pounds of muscle packed on his slender frame, it’s hard to imagine Karstens not being on the radar of the new Pirates training staff.

Bottom line: Has Karstens figured out how to pitch or have we seen his career year?  We tend to think he’s learned to pitch, let’s just trust another MLB Network talking head says something to jack him off before the season starts.  Karstens will be leaned upon to put up consistent numbers when he gets the ball, but it’s hard to think that improving on his 2011 season is even possible.

An effective Jeff Karstens is vital to the Pirates tipping the scales on a winning season, especially in a rotation with question marks heading into the season.