Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Jeff Karstens - The Psychologically Battered Ex-Wife of the Pirates
After the Francisco Liriano deal surprisingly fell through this past week, due to Liriano's arm injury to his non-throwing arm prior to signing his deal, the Pirates went back to a known commodity in the form of Jeffrey Wayne Karstens (Jeff to his friends). This back-and-forth between the Pirates and Karstens is nothing new to either party. In fact, if you look at it in its totality, it's somewhat comical how badly the Pirates have treated Karstens --- yet he keeps coming back to them.
Karstens came to the Pirates in July 2008 from the Yankees in the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade. He was part of a 4 person package meant to bolster the god-awful AAA team left behind by Littlefield with the hope that in 2008 and beyond the players could contribute to the Pirates. The four players were Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Ross Ohlendorf, and fallen star-prospect Jose Tabata. Tabata was seen as the gem of the deal, a 20 year old OF prospect with huge potential. Ross Ohlendorf was seen as a middle of the rotation starter or a power reliever. McCutchen was going to be a back of the rotation guy. Karstens was...the 4th guy. He was a starter, but didn't have a "wow" pitch or a high ceiling.
In Karstens' 2nd start with the Pirates in August 2008, he nearly pitched a no-hitter. He went the distance in a 2 hit shutout of the Diamondbacks. In 2009, he was a swingman for the Pirates as he appeared in 39 games (13 starts) and pitched 105 innings -- most in long relief. He was 4-6 with a 5.42 ERA. His peripherals of 3.48 BB/9 and only 4.3 K/9 were hardly inspiring, especially considering he was 26 years old.
The 2009 season made such a non-impression on the Pirates' front office that they designated him for assignment after the season and took Karstens off the 40 man roster. To put that in perspective, the Pirates didn't feel that Karstens was either worthy of being on the Major League roster or being one of the 15 others most likely to be called up heading into what would become a 57-105 season.
Karstens started 2010 in Triple A, but injuries soon brought him up to the Majors in late April. From that point on, Karstens finished the season with 122 IP in 19 starts (and 7 other appearances) with a 3-10 record and a 4.92 ERA. His peripherals improved a bit, with a 2.0 BB/9 and 5.3 K/9.
Karstens moved into 2011 without a guaranteed spot in the rotation, but he battled in Spring Training and lost out eventually at the end. He moved into the rotation very early after fellow piece of the Yankee trade, Ross Ohlendorf, became injured and missed the remainder of the season from early April onwards. Karstens turned in his finest season as a pro and sort of became emblematic o f the surprising 2011 Pirates season. He went 9-9 with a 3.38 ERA in 162 IP, but his secondary figures showed that he was the recipient of some good luck (77% left on base rate -- 70% is typical) and a 4.29 FIP. Karstens achieved his great season with guile, as his 89 mph fastball didn't scare anyone. But his dizzying array of curveballs, each slower than the next at times, kept hitters off balance for the majority of the year.
For the 2012 campaign, there wasn't a whole lot of discussion about Karstens going into the season. 2012 was his arb-2 campaign and there was some minor grumbling about his potential $3 million salary, but all in all $3M for a #3-4 pitcher wasn't too bad. For the first time in his career, there were expectations for Karstens to perform. He was seen as a dependable mid-rotation piece.
And 3 starts into the 2012 season that fell apart. One inning into his 3rd start, Karstens developed a inflammation in his right shoulder that kept him out for 2 months. When he returned in late June, Karstens provided 2 months of solid, if unspectacular, pitching for the rotation. He was nowhere near as effective as 2011.
In late August, with the Pirates started their historic downward spiral, Karstens took the mound against Milwaukee and lasted only 1/3 of an inning. He left with a hip flexor issue and taxed an already overworked bullpen for 8-2/3 innings. Management, both Hurdle and Huntington, were not pleased by Karstens taking the mound in a pre-injured state. When Karstens returned in mid-September, he made 4 appearances out of the bullpen in what would be a 90 IP season.
In November, the Pirates non-tendered Karstens who was projected to make around $4 million in his final year of arbitration. At Piratefest, Neal Huntington said the team tried to work out a deal for less with Karstens, then tried to trade him. When both options failed, they non-tendered him and made him a free agent. Huntington freely admitted that if healthy, the decision on Karstens could backfire on him if Karstens pitched well for another team. But it came down to health.
Karstens received only passing interest from the Rockies this offseason and was not connected with any other teams. When the Liriano deal fell through, he and the Pirates re-upped on a $2.5 million contract. No word on whether Huntington was wearing a white wife beater and promising him that "it would be different this time".
I'm not thrilled that Karstens is back. I think he is a wholly fungible pitcher that has an injury history that makes him unreliable. If Locke or McPherson get the 5th spot and Cole shows he is ready at mid-season, it wouldn't surprise me to see Karstens get relegated to the bullpen yet again. It just seems to be his fate at this point.