Is there anything better than baseball on a rainy Saturday afternoon? You can’t do any yard work, you know, because it’s pouring, so you settle into your favorite chair, crack a beer, and you’re whisked away to a place much warmer, and much sunnier. Here I sit, beer in hand, ready to watch this week’s test subject Royals righty Nate Karns vs the first place Baltimore Orioles. The journeymen starter is on his 4th organization in five seasons, and there’s two ways to look at this. Either Karns can’t keep a job, or he’s highly “in-demand” by multiple teams throughout the league. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, never good enough to lock-down a rotation spot, but also good enough to find opportunity year after year. So far Karns has been a good fit in Kansas City, making his 7th start today vs. a surprisingly mediocre Orioles offense, one that ranks in the bottom half of MLB in nearly every offensive category. So the home matchup vs. Baltimore is a good one, even if it’s a first place club he’s facing…. Here’s what I saw on Saturday.
Scouting Report: Unlike previous years Karns finds himself cemented into the middle of the Kansas City rotation. Across Karn’s first 6 starts the results have been solid, a 2-2 record, an 8.8 K/9, a 2.6 Bb/9, and a 3.63 ERA as a starter. His 4.58 ERA entering today’s game, was inflated by a 4 run relief performance in 2/3rds of an inning back on April 5th at Minnesota. A deeper look at the numbers shows that Karns has been very good. In fact, there’s been some really encouraging signs in Karns underlying peripherals, despite no real change in arsenal or approach. So far on the year Karn’s swinging strike rate is up to 12.5%, a 1.5% jump year over year, while his groundball rate has spiked by 15%, from 40.3% a year ago to an elite 56.8% in 2017. His arsenal is comprised of a mid-90’s four-seam fastball, a low-90’s sinker, a hard, mid-low 80’s curveball thrown with a knuckle curve grip, and a mid 80’s changup with a little break. The curve is far and away his best offering, and the results show this, with the break being more of the 1 to 7 variety, than the 12 to 6 it’s reported as. It works in on lefties, and away and off the plate on righties, generating whiffs over 25% of the time. Karns pitch usage has by and large remained the same in his three major league seasons. He throws fastballs about 50% of the time, with the vast majority being his four-seamer up and on the outside part of the plate. He uses the cheese to setup his hard-breaking curveball low and also on the outside part of the plate. His change up is used sparingly, about 12-15% of the time, and is thrown mostly in two strike counts, low and outside to both lefties, and righties. Though he will work middle in, and bury it under the hands of right-hand batters. The spike in swinging strikes and groundballs this season, seems to be generated from an uptick in usage of the curve, and change low and outside the zone.
- I’m trying a different approach this week, listing each batter, with a full detail of each pitch, and outcome.
Adam Jones – Curveball middle in, strike 1, Karns goes right back to the pitch, and buries the curve at the bottom of the zone, strike 2, Karns sits down Jones, as the curve is buried inside again to Jones for a swinging strike three, strikeout on 3 pitches. The bottom just drops out on this pitch.
Chris Davis – Starts davis off with a fastball 93 low and outside, ball 1, a changeup low and inside for strike 1, curveball drops out of the zone, ball 2, fastball inside is fouled off, strike 2, high fastball at 95, fouled straight back, strike 2, count is even at 2 a piece, Karns goes back to the hook, as he buries the curveball in the dirt for ball 3, full count, a changeup to the outside is fouled off, then a 93 mph fastball is fouled off, before rings him up on a deadly curveball to the inside part of the plate.
Strong first inning for Karns, as he strikesout two, making only one mistake to Machado, as he grooved a 93 MPH sinker.
Mark Trumbo – Karns starts off the 2nd frame with a fastball high and inside at 93, strike 1, right back to the fastball, high and inside, the pitch is slapped foul down the 3rd baseline, strike 2, a fastball high and outside is taken, ball 1, Karns then buries a curveball at 86 low and outside with hard 1 to 7 break getting a swinging strike three.
Jonathan Schoop – High fastball at 94, ball 1, change to the outside at 83, ball 2, fastball high and inside, ball 3, Karns finds himself behind in the count for the first time today. He goes at Schoop with a four-seam fastball at 93 down the pike, strike one, fastball high and inside for a swinging strike 2. With a full count, the righty buries the curve at 83 to the outside, and Karns gets another swinging strike for his 4th strikeout.
Trey Mancini – Curveball to the outside part of the plate, strike 1 looking, changeup at 88 low and outside, ball 1, curveball down the middle, as the bottom drops out for a swinging strike two, and a change at 85 and off the plate, freezes Mancini as he watches strike 3.
Nasty inning for Karns as he strikesout the side in the second. The curveball is a serious weapon.
J.J. Hardy – 92 MPH sinker on the bottom of the zone for strike 1, a curveball at 85 almost in the same spot as Hardy watches it go by for strike 2, Karns goes back to the curve again, this time at the bottom of the zone, and gets another swinging strike three. That’s six strikeouts, and five swinging strikes on the curve in just 2 1/3rd.
Francisco Pena – Karns starts out the number 9 hitter with a high fastball at 94 MPH, that the former Royal slaps back for a foul, strike 1, next a curveball that’s just off the plate, that Pena watches for ball 1, a curveball at 84 on the outside for strike 2, a changeup middle-middle is slapped down the third baseline foul, 1-2 count, curveball in the dirt way off the plate, ball two, and the first real mistake of the day for Karns as he hangs a curveball high in the zone and the Pena punishes it to leftfield for a homer, tied game.
Seth Smith – A fastball outside for ball 1, high fastball top of the zone, ball 2, fastball outside, that’s slapped the other way, strike 1, curveball buried low under the hands for a swinging strike 2, changeup at 87 to the outside part of the zone for ball 3, full count, curveball low and outside taken for ball four, Smith takes the first walk.
Adam Jones – Starts Jones off with a curveball at 84 middle in, that Jones takes for strike 1, fastball on the outside part of the plate at 93, slapped foul down the first base line, strike 2, curveball buried, at 84, that Jones beats into the ground, count 0-2 to Jones, high fastball at 92 down the middle, and Jones takes the pitch for strike three, 7 strikeouts through 2 2/3rds.
Manny Machado – 94 MPH fastball to the outside, ball 1, hanging curve middle in, Manny pulls it down the line foul, strike 1, fastball high and inside, taken for ball 2, fastball middle on the the outside part of the plate is popped up to right field for the final out of the inning.
By far Karns worst inning, but really outside of the hanging curve on the homer to Pena, he didn’t make too many mistakes.
Chris Davis – Lines Karns first offering, a 92 MPH middle-middle four-seamer, to second that the second baseman Escobar makes a stab on, and tosses to Hosmer for the first out of the fourth.
Mark Trumbo – Fastball low and outside taken for ball 1, curveball on the outside at 84 is hacked at badly for a swinging strike 1, 93 MPH down the middle taken for strike 2, curveball at 83 misses to the inside, ball 2, Karns comes right back and buries a curveball in the dirt and off the plate, Trumbo tries to hold up, but he broke the zone on the check, and is rung up for strike three. 8 strikeouts for Karns though 3 2/3rds.
Jonathan Schoop – Curveball on the inside taken for strike 1, fastball high and outside, ball 1, fastball high and on the outside part of the plate taken for strike 2, another fastball this one low and outside for ball 2, Karns drops the hammer on Schoop, and draws a swinging strike three on a 84 MPH curve down Main Street. 9 strikeouts and now 9 swinging strikes on the curve.
Three up and three down for Karns in the fourth, up to this point only three pitches have been well struck, Machado’s first inning single, Pena’s homer, and Davis’ hard line out to start the fourth.
Trey Mancini – Curveball bounces on the outside part of the zone and to the backstop, got away from Karns there for ball 1, curveball drops out of the zone and is taken for ball 2, 2-0 count, a fastball high and on the outside part of the plate is taken for strike 1, curveball low and in, and another swinging strike on the hook to even the count at 2-2, another curveball buried in the dirt way outside again for ball 3, full count, Karns runs a fastball on the outside part of the plate belt high, and Mancini watches strike three. Mancini has now watched two balls for strike three. 10 K’s for Karns through 4 1/3rd.
J.J. Hardy – Fastball high for ball one, fastball again, high and inside is slapped down the third base line foul, strike 1, curveball on the outside part of the plate at 84, and Hardy can’t hold up, strike 2, Karns goes back to his bread and butter, 84 MPH curveball that drops out of the zone for his 11th punchout, and 12th swinging strike on the pitch.
Francisco Pena – Karns throws a high fastball and Pena once again makes him pay killing the ball into the left field concourse. Damn Karns can’t get Pena out.
Seth Smith – Starts Smith off with a 94 MPH fastball to the outside, strike 1, changeup low and outside, taken for ball 1, Curve middle in, slapped down the first baseline for a foul, strike 2, 94 MPH fastball low and inside, ball 2, curveball at 86 to the outside part of the plate is cued off the end of the bat in play to shortstop, and Smith beats the throw for an infield single.
Adam Jones – Karns hangs a curve at 84 down the middle of the plate and Jones misses for strike 1, another curve, low and inside drops in for ball 1, third straight curveball to Jones on the outside part of the plate at 85 is whacked foul down the third baseline, strike 2, a fourth consecutive 84 MPH curve is slapped foul again, still 1-2, and yet another curveball, this at 85, is swung and foul tipped, Jones just got a piece of that one. A high fastball on the outside at 94, is fouled off again, still 1-2, 92 MPH fastball in the dirt way outside, ball 2, Karns then tosses a 93 MPH fastball off the plate, and Jones goes the other way for a line drive single.
Manny Machado – Curveball at 83 off the plate, that Manny swings through, strike 1, 82 MPH curveball off the plate slapped the other way foul, strike 2, he drops the hammer again! 84 off the plate and in the dirt as Manny Machado flails at the pitch for Karns 12th strikeout. 15 swinging strikes on the curveball today.
Final Line: 5 IP, 91 pitches, 61 strikes, 16 swinging strikes, 2 earned runs, 2 home runs, 12 K’s, 1 walk, 5 hits
Game Summary: That’s it for Karns as Seth Maness comes out for the top of the 6th. 91 pitches for Karns, 62 for strikes, including 16 swinging strikes, 15 of which came on Karns’ curve. I came away impressed, as Karns knows how to setup hitters for the strikeout, using his elite hard curve to generate swings and misses, mixing in the change to keep batters honest on the hook. The spike in SwStr, ground balls, and his K/9 is all generated off of his plus curve. One change in Karns’ approach this season has been the ability to bury the pitch off the plate, and to the first base side. An effective plan of attack to both right-handed, and left-handed hitters.
Updated Top 100 SP
(rankings for ROS based on 12-team Roto)
- A couple of demotions knocked both Blake Snell and Jharel Cotton off the list this week. Hopefully each can find the strikeout upside that made them intriguing prospects entering 2016. It’s been an especially tough go for Snell who’s struggled to find the plate, best illustrated by his 5.36 BB/9.
- There are exactly 11 pitchers with a 50%+ groundball rate, and 10%+ SwStr rate they are as follows, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Trevor Cahill, Andrew Triggs, Nate Karns, Jon Lester, Carlos Martinez, Michael Pineda, Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, and Luis Severino.
- Lots of talk of Alex Wood, and it’s easy to see why, he’s been phenominal. Keep in mind these are rest of season rankings, and there’s still some question to whether or not Wood stays in the rotation for the rest of the year. Though if he keeps this up, he will.
- What’s with the Indians? Starters Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer, each have K/9’s in the double digits, but ERA’s over 5. In fact they’re the only pitchers with K/9 totals over 10 per, with ERA’s over 4.50.
- It’s not a surprise that Dylan Bundy came out this week and silenced his critics somewhat, striking out 8 against Kansas City. I mentioned this a few times last week in the comments, but 3 of his first 7 starts were against a Red Sox team that just doesn’t strikeout. BTW there’s numbers that back this up, not a Boston Bias thing.