The Karstens conundrumBy
Jeff Karstens wasn’t supposed to do this. He wasn’t an All Star in Japan; he doesn’t have an onerous four-year, $39.95 million contract. Karstens, a 19th-round draft pick in 2003, is 24 and doesn’t even make a dent on the Yankees top prospect list.
But Jeff Karstens is making things very difficult for the Yankees this Spring Training. It is a difficulty that many teams would love to have.
In three appearances – two starts, one relief showing – Karstens in 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA. He’s thrown 9 innings of 5-hit baseball racking up 9 strike outs and walking no one. And after an off-season of tough condition, Karstens is hitting his spots with a fastball in the 90s. Last night, during a one-hit, four-inning effort against the Twins, he was flashing two effective off-speed pitches as well.
For the Yanks, their rotation – while shaky – is seemingly filled. Some combination of Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina will fill out the top three slots, and the expensive duo of Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano are slated for the last three slots. But Karstens has shown better poise and better stuff this Spring than Pavano and Igawa.
While Spring Training stats are by and large meaningless, some numbers are telling. Karstens’ zero walks shows he’s not afraid to pound the strike zone and that his control has been stellar so far. Meanwhile, Pavano has looked merely pedestrian in two trips to the Hill, and Igawa hasn’t shown any control even if his strike out rate is high in few innings.
Of course, none of this pitchers has thrown anything close to a significant number of innings. But Karstens looks strong out of the gate. He’s throwing, as Newsday’s new beat reporter Kat O’Brien noted, with a purpose, and he seems comfortable in Big League camp. He doesn’t need to earn his teammates’ trust or the fans’ belief that he can be good. We saw him last year; we know that he can throw.
As Peter Abraham noted, all eyes will be on Kei Igawa this evening. If he can’t show some command and effectiveness today, the Yanks may consider long and hard giving Karstens a rotation spot. He’s certainly earned it.
If nothing else, Karstens is yet another reminder that the Yankees don’t need to and shouldn’t be spending obscene amounts of money on fringe pitchers. Their signing of Igawa was a knee-jerk reaction to the Matsuzaka bidding war, but they have an ample number of candidates to fill out that five slot in the rotation. I hope money and that so-called veteran presence that Joe Torre seems to favor doesn’t trump ability.
Based on cash considerations, the Yankees have invested a lot in Pavano and Igawa. Based on Spring Training performance – indeed an unreliable indicator – Karstens deserves that rotation spot.
Image of Jeff Karstens pitching during the 2006 season courtesy of MLB.com.