Born: September 24, 1982
Height: 6′ 3″
Weight: 170
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Drafted: 19th Round, 574th Overall, 2003
How Acquired: Free Agent
College: Texas Tech
Agent: All Bases Covered Sports Management


Karstens ended up in the re-worked trade with the Yankees for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte.  Originally, the trade included Phil Coke and George Kontos along with Ross Ohlendorf and Jose Tabata, but for unknown reasons the teams replaced the first two with Karstens and Dan McCutchen.  Karstens is a finesse pitcher who throws the standard four pitches, mixing them up to the extent that he throws only a little over half fastballs.  His velocity has consistently averaged just under 89, topping out around 92.  He’s a little different from the usual finesse pitcher in that he relies less on perfect location than on the movement on his fastball, which is very good.  He depends heavily on getting ahead in the count to set up his breaking stuff.  He’s generally had excellent BB/K ratios in the minors, but he’s had very low K rates in the majors.  He’s also had trouble with gopher balls.  Like most Pirate pitchers, he struggles to hit .100.  He’s usually been easy to steal against, although that may have less to do with his move to first than with the fact that he throws a lot of offspeed stuff.

A-:  4-2-0, 2.54 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 67.1 IP, 2.1 BB/9, 7.1 K/9 

Had a good debut in the New York-Penn League.

A+:  6-9-0, 4.02 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 138.2 IP, 2.0 BB/9, 7.5 K/9 

Jumped to high A and got hit harder, although he was skipping a level.  He did increase his K rate.

AA:  12-11-0, 4.15 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 169 IP, 2.2 BB/9, 7.8 K/9 

Got hit harder in AA, as opponents hit .285 against him, but he still had very good walk and K rates.

AA:  11-5-0, 3.29 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 74 IP, 1.7 BB/9, 8.1 K/9
AAA:  5-5-0, 4.28 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 73.2 IP, 3.7 BB/9, 5.9 K/9
MLB:  2-1-0, 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 42.2 IP, 2.3 BB/9, 3.4 K/9 

Returned to AA for 11 starts.  This time opponents batted only .198 against him, and he improved his walk and K rates.  He moved up to AAA for 14 starts and had much less impressive peripherals.  He made his major league debut in late August, with six starts and two relief appearances.

R:  0-0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 3.1 IP, 2.7 BB/9, 5.4 K/9
A-:  1-0-0, 1.80 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 5 IP, 0.0 BB/9, 14.4 K/9
A+:  0-0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 4 IP, 2.2 BB/9, 11.2 K/9
AA:  1-0-0, 1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 5 IP, 3.6 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
AAA:  3-0-0, 1.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 31 IP, 2.6 BB/9, 7.8 K/9
MLB:  1-4-0, 11.05 ERA, 2.46 WHIP, 14.2 IP, 5.5 BB/9, 3.1 K/9 

Missed much of the year with a broken fibula.  Prior to that, he pitched a couple times for the Yankees in April, then worked his way back through the minors.  He returned to New York for a few games late in the year, but didn’t pitch effectively.

AAA (NYY):  6-4-0, 3.80 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 68.2 IP, 2.0 BB/9, 7.2 K/9
MLB (Pgh):  2-6-0, 4.03 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 51.1 IP, 2.3 BB/9, 4.0 K/9

The Yankees sent Karstens back to AAA and he made a dozen starts before the trade, although he also missed time twice with groin muscle problems.  The Pirates inserted him into their rotation immediately after the trade and he made nine starts.  He was a sensation at first, shutting out the heavy-hitting Cubs over six innings in his first start and taking a perfect game into the 8th inning against Arizona in his second.  He struggled through his remaining starts, sometimes allowing extra base hits in bunches.  He had a reverse platoon split, allowing an OPS of .806 to right-handed batters and .737 to left-handed.  He fanned very few hitters.

AAA:  0-0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 6 IP, 0.0 BB/9, 10.5 K/9
MLB:  4-6-0, 5.42 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 108 IP, 3.8 BB/9, 4.3 K/9

The Pirates gave Karstens a chance to win a rotation spot in spring training.  He pitched very poorly in the exhibitions but won a spot anyway when the competition simply melted away.  He pitched poorly through the beginning of June, then moved to long relief after the acquisition of Charlie Morton.  He went on the DL in mid-August with back problems and missed a few weeks.  He pitched worse after returning, but his ERA was 5.03 when he went on the DL.  His final tally was a 5.30 as a starter and 4.62 in relief, so he wasn’t doing very well either way.  He had more trouble than normal with his control, walking nearly as many as he fanned.  When he fell behind, he got hit hard; his opponents’ slugging average was .478.  That probably wasn’t helped by a strong flyball rate of 45.5%, well above his career norm.  Karstens was designated for assignment after the season.  He cleared waivers and was assigned to AAA.

AAA:  1-2-0, 7.31 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 16 IP, 1.1 BB/9, 6.8 K/9
MLB:  3-10-0, 4.92 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 122.2 IP, 2.0 BB/9, 5.3 K/9 

Karstens opened 2010 at Indianapolis and pitched poorly, but the Pirates’ pitching staff fell to pieces almost on day one.  He ended up spending most of the year in the majors, finishing third on the team in innings.  This time, he made most of his appearances (19 of 26) as a starter and pitched better in that role (4.78 ERA vs. 5.87).  At times, Karstens seemed like a much better pitcher.  He gave up a lot more hits (opponents hit .294 against him) and allowed an alarming slugging average of .504, but his walk and strikeout rates were much better than 2009.  He was hurt by a serious gopher ball problem, as he allowed better than one every six innings.  He tended to pitch very well for 4-5 innings, then get bombed.  Unfortunately, ex-manager John Russell was characteristically slow to adapt to the pattern.  In keeping with his preference for preserving the bullpen over winning games, he typically waiting until long after Karstens had come unglued to pull him.  In innings 1-5, Karstens had an ERA of 3.78 and opponents’ BA of .283, and allowed a HR every nine innings.  From inning 6 onward, he had an ERA of 9.93 and opponents’ BA of .333, and allowed a HR every two innings.  More timely managerial intervention might have saved Karstens a boatload of runs.  He continued to be a flyball pitcher, although not as much so as in 2009, and this time got hammered by left-handed batters, allowing them an OPS of 1.027, compared to .683 by right-handed batters.  He was removed from rotation prior to his first scheduled September start due to shoulder soreness, but returned to appear once in relief near season’s end.

MLB:  9-9-0, 3.38 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 162.1 IP, 1.8 BB/9, 5.3 K/9 

Karstens opened the season in the bullpen, partly with the idea that he’d serve as the team’s “sixth starter.”  It didn’t take long, as Ross Ohlendorf lasted only two starts.  Karstens replaced him in the rotation, made 26 starts, and had a huge surprise season.  In July he was fighting for the NL lead in ERA, getting as low as 2.28.  He got hammered in August, with a 7.45 ERA for the month, but it’s possible he was wearing down.  He made two starts in September, then went out for the year with shoulder soreness that was not thought to be serious.  The one big negative was 22 HRs in 162.1 IP, although he did increase his groundball rate to 46.2%, easily a career high.  For a while, Clint Hurdle, in keeping with Karstens’ history, was reluctant to let him go past five or six innings.  Starting at the beginning of June, though, Karstens went seven innings or more in eight of 11 starts, including a complete game shutout.  He went less than six and two-thirds only once in that stretch.  His ERA was 3.22 in innings 1-3, 3.71 in innings 4-6, and 1.93 in innings 7-9 (14 innings total).  Karstens’ 2011 showing probably was a little fluky, but not entirely.  His FIP (fielding independent pitching, expressed as an ERA equivalent) was generally around 4.80 previously, but dropped to 4.29 in 2011, suggesting real improvement.  Of course, it was still nearly a full run above his actual ERA.  His batting average on balls in play (.275) was a little low and his percentage of runners stranded (77.4%) was a little high, but neither was far out of line with NL norms.

AA:  1-0-0, 0.90 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 10.0 IP, 0.9 BB/9, 5.4 K/9
AAA:  0-2-0, 4.61 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 13.2 IP, 2.0 BB/9, 8.6 K/9
MLB:  5-4-0, 3.97 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 90.2 IP, 1.5 BB/9, 6.6 K/9

Karstens built on his 2011 success and continued to improve on the mound.  Unfortunatelyhe couldn’t stay on the mound.  He went out after three April starts with shoulder inflammation and missed over two months.  In late August, he went out again with a hip flexor and was able to pitch only in relief in September.  When he was able to pitch, he put up a lower walk rate and much lower HR rate.  His K rate increased by almost a quarter and his strikeout to walk ratio improved from 2.9 to 4.4.  He also was very efficient with his pitches.  In his last ten starts before the hip flexor, he went at least seven innings seven times and never fewer than five.  This included a game in which he threw eight shutout innings in just 89 pitches and another in which he threw seven shutout innings in just 83 pitches.  His ERA is misleading; in his last start, he hid the hip problem from the team and allowed four runs in just a third of an inning.  In contrast to 2011, when his FIP and xFIP were both higher than his ERA, in 2012 they were both lower.  His BABIP was almost exactly his career norm at .287.

A+:  0-0-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 3.0 IP, 0.0 BB/9, 12.0 K/9
AA:  0-0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.00WHIP, 4.0 IP, 4.5 BB/9, 9.0 K/9

Karstens was eligible for arbitration again after the season and figured to get a little under $4M.  The Pirates didn’t want to pay that much, mainly due to the injury risks, and designated him for assignment.  Surprisingly, he drew little interest on the free agent market.  After the Pirates’ deal with Francisco Liriano got held up due to Liriano’s injury, the Pirates signed Karstens for one year at a reported $2.5M, with $1M in incentives linked to innings pitched.  At the time, they said he’d compete for one of the last two spots in the rotation.  As it turned out, he had recurring shoulder issues in spring training and opened the season on the disabled list.  He made two rehab appearances in mid-May, but the shoulder problems persisted and he eventually had surgery to “clean up” his labrum and rotator cuff.  He started throwing again in August, but wasn’t able to return during the season.

The Pirates’ decision to risk losing Karstens after the 2012 season while re-signing Charlie Morton seemed puzzling at the time, but in retrospect it appears they knew what they were doing.  Karstens was very effective when he was healthy in 2011-12, but the injury problems have mounted to the point where he’ll probably have to go somewhere on a minor league contract.  It’d be nice if he returned to Pittsburgh, but that will probably depend on how the team’s 2014 rotation shapes up in the off-season, including whether they re-sign A.J. Burnett.

Baseball Reference–Majors
Baseball Reference–Minors
2013: $2,500,000

  • Could earn $1,000,000 in incentives based on innings pitched.

2012: $3,100,000 (avoided arbitration)
$1,100,000 (avoided arbitration)

  • Could earn $25,000 for 20 starts, and $25,000 for 25 starts in 2011.

2010: $475,000
2009: $401,500
2008: $393,300
2007: $389,425

Signing Bonus: N/A
MiLB Debut: 2003
MLB Debut: 8/22/2006
MLB FA Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 4/27/2010
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2006, 2007, 2008)
MLB Service Time: 5.132
June 5, 2000: Drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 45th round, 1326th overall pick.
June 3, 2003: Drafted by the New York Yankees in the 19th round, 574th overall pick; signed on June 11.
November 18, 2005: Contract purchased by the New York Yankees.
July 26, 2008: Acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates from the New York Yankees along with Jose Tabata, Daniel McCutchen, and Ross Ohlendorf in exchange for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte.
November 20, 2009: Designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
November 30, 2009: Outrighted to AAA by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
April 27, 2010: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
November 30, 2012: Designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
January 14, 2013: Signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.