First Pitch: McDonald and Karstens Should Be Locks For the 2013 Rotation

Looking ahead to the 2013 season, there has been some talk and speculation that Pirates starters James McDonald and Jeff Karstens might not be locks for the 2013 rotation. If you ask me, both pitchers should be locks for the rotation next year.

The knock against McDonald right now is that he’s faded in the second half. The right-hander posted a 7.52 ERA in 61 innings in the second half, and was eventually removed from the rotation. That was a huge change from his first half, where he put up a 2.37 ERA in 110 innings as a starter. That was a pace to make him a legit contender for the Cy Young award. McDonald wasn’t that good, and there was some regression to be expected. But the expected regression wasn’t anything close to this. Even if he would have regressed a normal amount, McDonald still should have put up good numbers.

His struggles in the second half were a concern, but you can’t ignore the first half. You also can’t ignore the career. McDonald had a 4.04 ERA in 311.2 innings coming in to this season. Coincidentally, his ERA and innings were the same last year and this year — both at a 4.21 ERA over 171 innings. He saw slight improvements this year with his K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 rates, and lowered his hit rate by 1.5 hits per nine innings. Maybe McDonald isn’t as good as his first half. But he’s a pitcher who has a 4.10 ERA and good secondary numbers to back that ERA up, all over the span of close to 500 innings.

It seems very likely that the Pirates would get a pitcher with a low 4.00 ERA. That alone is worth keeping McDonald in the rotation. The fact that he flashed top of the rotation stuff for the first half of the 2012 season only makes his bid much stronger. He’s had a horrible second half, but he seems like a safe gamble to take next year.

With Karstens, the situation is a bit different. The right-hander has put up good numbers the last two seasons. He’s combined for a 3.61 ERA in 252 innings. His BB/9 ratio was under 2.0 in each season, dropping to a 1.5 mark this year, which is phenomenal. His HR/9 rate dropped this year, getting under 1.0 for the first time in his career. His K/9 rate also continues to rise, going from 4.3 in 2009 to 5.3 in 2010 and 2011 to 6.5 in 2012.

Karstens doesn’t have dominant stuff, but he does know how to pitch. He’s not going to blow batters away, but he can finesse his way through a game. His BB/9 ratio has dropped in each of the last three years, going from 3.8 in 2009 to 1.5 in 2012. His HR/9 rate went from 1.5 in 2010 to 0.8 this year. His K/9 rate has improved steadily since he arrived in the majors. All of that suggests that he’s getting better at the art of pitching.

The knock against him is that he can be fragile. He’s dealt with three injuries this year, limiting him to 89.2 innings. He dealt with injuries last year, keeping him to 162.1 innings. Still, his numbers when healthy are good enough to be a prime starting candidate.

McDonald and Karstens are two of the best options the Pirates have, and that’s not a bad thing. Unless they make a huge free agent splash, or find the 2013 version of A.J. Burnett, it would be hard to find a pitcher with the potential that those two have. The Pirates shouldn’t be looking to replace either pitcher in the rotation. Instead, they should look for contingency plans, in the event that McDonald carries his second half struggles over to 2013, or Karstens gets injured. Those contingency options could be preparing someone like Jeff Locke or Justin Wilson to take over (I’m assuming Kyle McPherson would already be in the rotation), or bringing back Kevin Correia to be a spot starter/depth option. The Pirates should have Gerrit Cole arriving by mid-season next year, so there’s another replacement candidate.

I wouldn’t rule out looking for a better option, although I feel the Pirates would be better off focusing their resources on the offensive side of the game. That would be a bigger priority over finding upgrades over McDonald or Karstens.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost to the Reds 4-3.

**Pirates Notebook: Twenty.

**Pirates Exploring How Karstens Fits in the Picture.

**Charlie at Bucs Dugout wonders why Starling Marte isn’t getting playing time. One thing that stood out to me was this summary by Charlie:

I just don’t understand the idea that, of all the struggling hitters the Pirates have used this year, Marte is the one who deserves to be benched. This is a team that started Josh Harrison tonight. This is a team that continues to start Gaby Sanchez against righties. This is a team that started Rod Barajas just yesterday (a day after he got two big hits against the Mets, but still). The idea that an outfielder who provides lots of value on defense and has an OPS (barely, admittedly) north of .700 in his first exposure to big-league pitching is the one who’s the problem doesn’t really hold water.

This has been going on all season with the Pirates. It happened in the middle of the summer when the Pirates demoted Alex Presley, and started guys like Drew Sutton. Presley was far from the worst hitter on the team, and was just as good, if not better than Sutton. It didn’t make much sense to demote Presley and keep a lot of other players up. As Charlie points out, the same is happening with Marte.

**I took the last two nights off for personal and technological reasons. On the technology side, my 5+ year old Macbook is having an issue where the screen will go dark. The computer still runs, and the only way I can get the screen back is to close the screen until the laptop goes in standby mode, then open it up again. This happens frequently. Sometimes it will happen after a few minutes of use. Sometimes it will happen after an hour of use. Sometimes the screen won’t come back on after coming out of standby mode.

I’m posting this here to ask two questions:

1. Has anyone with a Macbook had this issue? I’ve done some research and it seems like it could be a motherboard problem.

2. Does anyone use a tablet as a laptop? I might go with a tablet instead of a new laptop, although I’m not totally convinced that it would be the same.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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