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.

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There is no reason to include Correia in any conversation about next year. His abilities do not exceed any of the younger arms in the system that are cheap. So to McDonald and Karstens – both have shown they can deliver and both can blow up albeit in different ways. So what you have is two guys who actually equal one starter – virtually.
Providing health is not an issue I see the rotation something like this:
1. Burnett – Clearly
2. Rodriguez – Righty / lefty thing / contract
3. McPhereson – Very much a solid number 3 from what I saw this year from No Fear.
4. McD/Karstens/Morton/ Locke/any ol vet fight it out for 4-5

And this keeping in mind that Cole is coming, and there are a few other guys with some real good stuff who will push also.

Ian Rothermund

Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see, since there has to be someone on the outside starting off next year. In all likelihood, Morton won’t be ready at the start of the year. But there’s still Cole, McPherson, Locke, even Irwin….maybe even Taillon depending on how things pan out. Don’t forget about Wilson…it’s interesting that there are actually options with some potential out there.


I don’t have a clue what the Pirates will do next year, their offense seems to be set, I wouldn’t even be surprised if they brought Barajas back especially if Burnett and Wandy insist on it. I can’t see them replacing Barmes with his contract and they brought in Sanchez and Snider with control of them for another couple of years.
So that leaves the Pitching staff I think Hanny will go because of the money. Grilli will want a large raise so there will be some changes to the pen.
I think they will try to add some extra depth to the rotation due to the uncertainty of JMac,Karstens and the youhg pitchers.
It would be nice if there were a Showalter clone out there who was willing to come to the Bucs but Huntington wouldn’t pull the trigger anyway.
So here comes #21 and 22 and on and on.


Tim, fwiw, my 2007 MB was doing that for a month earlier this year, then it went away. When it happened, I didn’t close it completely, I simply changed the angle of screen until it bounced back, then I could move back to its original position. My research was not that it was a motherboard issue but most likely an inverter cable issue.

I imagine if you just want to be on the web and do word processing, a cheap netbook (windows) would work. I wouldn’t want to write more than short texts on a tablet. I have $250 cheapo netbook I use to run windows specific programs, but it’s also my emergency laptop.

As far as pitching goes, Correia had 15 QS in 27 starts. JMac had 15 in 29. Karstens had 7 in 15. We all know Correia is no better than a #5 based on peripheral numbers, but of the three, which one was more consistent in keeping his team in the game? Right, the guy who’s not in the conversation.

FWIW, everyone’ favorite $10 million FA Edwin Jackson was 16/30 in QS with a much better team. So Correia did better than even EJ at $6 mill less. Not to mention the guy will blow up almost as much as JMac and can’t be counted on start to start.

Now, do I think Correia is a guy who should be on a championship staff? No. The point here is that the pitching issues and who to keep/release/trade aren’t as clear cut as they seem. And Correia may be better than many of the FA pitchers who would be under consideration.

If Huntington is the GM, I guessing everyone else’s non-tenders get invited to camp and/or offered minor league contracts – Humber, Hochevar, Volstad, etc.

Nathan Swartz

I’d take a flier on Hochevar.


Tablets aren’t a good replacement for laptops if you’re typing more than a few words. A lot of functions, like cutting and pasting, can be difficult or impossible.


It’d help with typing but not with other functions unless you also had a mouse.

If you get one, definitely do not get 3G.


a tablet, for now, just cant do what a laptop can do. its like this: Pedro Ciriaco is a tablet, Pedro Alvarez is a laptop… pedro cerrano is a commodore 64.

F Lang

Yes. With Karstens numbers at least sign him and trade him if you don’t want him. Karstens is easily good enough to be in our rotation next year with what we have. This rumor makes absolutely no sense to me. He has better numbers than Correia over the last 2 years and Correia made 4 mil a season. Karstens made 3.1 mil this year. Karstens for 1 year and 4-5 mil is a no-brainer to me.

Lee Young

Those questionable lineup decisions go back to Hurdle. He is an idiot manager in my book. And WHY is Correia starting in this series? WHY??!!!

Ian Rothermund

Yeah….at the beginning of the season I was believing in Hurdle…now I’m thinking more than one guy from the coaching staff needs to go. I think I might keep Searage out of those guys….maybe.


Karstens should – and probably will – be back, IMO, DK & Rob’s comments notwithstanding.

Agree that he has to overcome the “injury-prone” aspect, though.

He has 1 more year of arb left, yes? With the year he’s had, I don’t think he’ll be granted much of a raise, but whatever he gets, he’s worth it.

I don’t even want to get into JMac right now.

Kyle Shade

I have the same issue with my Macbook. It is the backlight. I took it to the Apple store and they stated that for 250$ they can send it away to fix it and the techs will fix any issue they find (essentially making it new) but this will more than likely wipe any program or file you have on it. On way I have gotten around it is buying a cheap monitor and getting the 20$ Mac adaptor and displaying the screen that way.


This probably isn’t the right forum, but since you talked about your Mac issue, I figured I would ask. Do you use an application/software that allows you to run Windows programs on you Mac, like VMware Fusion, Parallel, Boot Camp? I’m looking into purchasing VMware Fusion but am trying to get some opinions first.


Tim, this is probably your issue. I had a similar problem with a Dell about 5 years ago. The first time it happened, it was under warranty. A technician basically replaced a wire that connected the screen to the lower part of my laptop. When it occurred a second time, I used a monitor like Kyle did. Unfortunately, this kind of kills the perk of portability because you essentially have a regular PC. I put up with it for as long as I could before buying a Mac.

John Lease

Both Rob Biertempel and Dejan are reporting Karstens might not be offered arbitration. How they can decide he can be cut loose and Morton be kept is beyond me.

Matt Beam

If they don’t bring him back, I’m done… how do you expect to expect to break 500, much less compete for the playoffs, by deciding to non-tender a very viable SP with an ERA under 4. This is not the Yankees… besides, not withstanding an unbelievable run by the Reds SP’s this year of no injuries, you need at least 6 SP’s over the course of the year… let’s count Cole’s mid season arrival as pitcher #6 so Locke, Wilson, McPherson, and McDonald are all going to be better than Jeff next year? You’re an idiot to expect more than 2 of the 4 and in all likelihood it’s no more than 1 of those 4, Locke and WIlson have shown me nothing yet

Lee Young

John….I agree…letting Karstens go would be a HUGE mistake, imho.

Bob Martin

That’s a fairly easy question to answer due to the Pirates being so cheap..Jeff is looking at 5m and up for a salary…The Pirates can replace him with a much cheaper version.


its not just Karstens due more money, lots of players will be due more money… jones, cutch, mcdonald, burnett, etc, etc… this team’s natural payroll will rise next season even with the departure of guys like barajas and even hanrahan.

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