After the uncertainties concerning the Francisco Liriano deal came to light, the Pittsburgh Pirates took no chances in attempting to provide some depth for the starting rotation. The team signed pitcher Jeff Karstens to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review's Rob Biertempfel.
Karstens made $3.1 million last season and was primed to exceed that total in arbitration. But, the Pirates non-tendered him in November, which made him a free agent.
The signing seemingly gives the Pirates an added veteran presence in a rotation that was top heavy in that respect.
With that said, there is the thought that the team may still look to add to the rotation, among other areas.
Burnett is unquestionably the No. 1 starter on a team that lacks a true, dominant ace. In 2012, Burnett posted one of the best seasons of his career, statistically speaking. He went 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA in 202.1 innings.
Burnett's 3.4 WAR rating last year was by far the best of any pitcher currently in the running for a spot on the staff. That number put him among the likes of San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner, Arizona's Trevor Cahill and Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman.
One of the question marks going forward will be Burnett's awful 12.7 percent HR/FB rate (home run to fly ball rate). Burnett was the worst out of the entire rotation last season at keeping fly balls in the park, outside of a short stint from Jeff Locke.
One of his saving graces was his ground-ball percentage.
Burnett led the staff with a 56.9 percentage—more than even sinker-ball pitcher Charlie Morton in his injury-shortened season. The flyballs that were being hit were often detrimental on the scoreboard. Yet, PNC Park often helped holding in would-be home runs. Burnett's home ERA in 2012 was 3.10 compared to a 4.01 ERA on the road.
Rodriguez was OK after coming over in a trade from the Houston Astros prior to the July 31 trade deadline. In 12 starts, the lefty posted a 5-4 record with a 3.72 ERA. His 0.7 WAR rating was in the middle of the pack of the Pirates' staff.
Rodriguez primarily works off of a fastball, breaking pitch and offspeed pitch. Historically, his curve has been his most dominant weapon.
Last year was Rodriguez's best in terms of getting the first pitch over the plate (65.9 percent). Coincidentally, it was also the year in which opposing batters made contact the highest percentage of the time in the strike zone while swinging (90.8 percent).
Even pitches Rodriguez threw outside of the strike zone were being hit at a career-high pace (73.6 percent).
Ultimately, it will come down to the road performance, much like Burnett. Rodriguez posted a 3.47 ERA at PNC Park in eight starts during the 2012 season.
Karstens—who managed to appear in 19 games, starting 15—struggled to stay healthy last season. Those injury concerns are a reason the rotation is likely not finalized, as a deal can't be entirely ruled out for Liriano.
Karstens put up a 5-4 record with a 3.97 ERA during his time spent off of the disabled list.
In terms of WAR, Karstens boasted the second-best number on the staff, at 1.7. More impressive was his low 7.8 percent HR/FB rate, which topped the rotation.
Since 2009, Karstens has seen his swinging-strike percentage increase (percentage of strikes that were swung at and missed), and consequently, he has also seen a rise in his strikeout totals. A large part of that has been a rise in the percentage of pitches batters have swung at outside the strike zone.
Last year, Karstens' splits were the epitome of the pitching staff. At home, he posted a 3-1 record with a 1.80 ERA in eight games, while on the road, he registered a 2-3 record with a 6.11 ERA in 11 games.
One of the biggest surprises in the league last year, McDonald sputtered midseason and eventually came back to earth after getting off to a dazzling start. After starting off the season 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA and 100 K through 17 starts, McDonald went 3-5 over the next 13 games (12 starts), posting a 7.52 ERA and 1.787 WHIP.
McDonald also posted a 1.7 WAR rating, as his first half of the season was just that impressive. Like Burnett, the 28-year-old struggled with fly balls resulting in home runs, as his HR/FB rate was 11.3 percent. Additionally, he was last in last year's rotation with a 1.11 HR/nine innings.
July was especially rough for McDonald. He allowed 24 walks and surrendered seven home runs. As a testament to just how dominant he was during the first half of the season, you just have to look at those same numbers in April, May and June. McDonald allowed a total of 26 walks and six home runs in those three months combined.
Struggles away from PNC Park were also a problem for McDonald. A 6-2 record with a 2.73 ERA at home gave way to a 6-6 record and a 5.95 ERA on the road. Finding consistency away from the North Shore will be key.
Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke
The last spot of the tentative rotation will be fought for between the 25-year-old right-hander McPherson and the 25-year-old lefty Locke.
Locke, who was acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Braves for Nate McClouth, debuted for the Pirates in 2011 and went 0-3 with a 6.48 ERA in four starts. Last year, Locke registered his first major-league win, going 1-3 with a 5.50 ERA in eight games (six starts).
The small sample size has produced a collective WAR of minus-0.7, yet the productive minor-league career indicates some room for growth.
McPherson, who was drafted in the 14th round of the 2007 draft by the Pirates, debuted for the Bucs last year. In his short stint, McPherson was impressive, posting a 2.73 ERA in 26.1 innings.
While he didn't spend much time at Triple-A Indianapolis (three starts), he was given the title "Best Control" in the Pirates' system after the 2011 and 2012 seasons by Baseball America. A 1.17 WHIP in his first shot in the show didn't do anything to dissuade that notion.