Predicting the Pittsburgh Pirates' Opening Day Starting Rotation
Last year the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation was a positive for most of the year with Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton among others exceeding expectations. After the departure of starters Ross Ohlendorf and Paul Maholm, the Pirates went out and signed veteran pitcher Erik Bedard and traded for another veteran in A.J. Burnett.
Burnett and Bedard add a certain veteran experience that was missing from the Pirates' rotation the past several years, and, if healthy, those two immediately upgrade the Pirates' rotation.
With Charlie Morton just starting to recover from offseason hip surgery and Karstens falling back into reality after an epic June and July, what will the Pirates' rotation look like when they open the season April 5th against the Philadelphia Phillies?
1. Erik Bedard
I fully expect Erik Bedard, a career American League pitcher so far, to open the season for the Pirates on April 6th in Pittsburgh against the Phillies. In eight big league seasons, all of which have been played in either Baltimore, Seattle or Boston, Bedard has a career 3.70 ERA.
After starting the year with Seattle, he was traded midseason to Boston last year in hopes of helping an injury-depleted rotation. Bedard disappointed Red Sox Nation with a 1-2 record and a 4.03 ERA in eight starts with the club.
The knock on Bedard? Health. Can he pitch a full season? 2006, with Baltimore, is the only season in his career in which he has had over 30 starts. 2011 was the only time since 2007 that he surpassed 100 innings.
In mid-2009, while enjoying his best season, Bedard went down and needed Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow. The surgery kept him out the remainder of the 2009 season and ALL of 2010. 2011 was a recovery year for Bedard; he appeared in 24 games with a 3.62 ERA in 121 innings.
2012 will be a possible defining year for Bedard as he goes into Pittsburgh with a one-year, $1 million deal with the possibility of another big free-agency contract looming.
As long as he stays healthy, I fully expect Bedard to be the Pirates' staff ace.
2. Jeff Karstens
On April 8th, I feel Jeff Karstens is the man to hit the mound in Pittsburgh. Last year, Karstens had an unbelievable year and turned from bullpen and spot-duty guy to a lock for the 2012 rotation.
Last year, Karstens went 9-9 with a 3.38 ERA, starting 26 of 30 games that he appeared in. He even went through an unheard of stretch in June where he gave up just two earned runs in four starts. He gave up four or more earned runs only four times ALL SEASON.
Karstens is the guy that could go anywhere in the rotation in 2012. If he even comes close to putting up last year's numbers anyone, and I mean ANYONE, in Pittsburgh that is a fan would take it. Heck, most would even take a .500 record and ERA just south of four.
Karstens is a lock for this year's rotation as long as he doesn't return to his 2009 5-plus ERA form.
3. A.J. Burnett
Earlier this week, A.J. Burnett got creative to get No. 34 from teammate Daniel McCutchen. Burnett plans to start a college fund for McCutchen's soon-to-be-born daughter. Such a nice gesture, huh?
Anyway, Burnett joins the Pirates after a rocky, at best, tenure with the New York Yankees. A return to the National League could do wonders for Burnett, who performed very well early in his career with the Florida Marlins.
A.J. Burnett looks to take the third spot in the Pirates rotation and start a 1:35PM Easter Sunday matinee against the Phillies.
Burnett has some lofty expectations entering Pittsburgh as the highest paid player, even at the $6.5 million the Pirates are paying.
If Burnett can even return to the form he had in Toronto, the Pirates will have made a nice investment.
4. Kevin Correia
Kevin Correia was last year's Opening Day starter for the Pirates, and this year I expect him to pitch on an Opening Day again—just not the opening day of the season, nor the PNC home-opener. Instead, I see him pitching the home-opener in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.
Correia probably would sit in the third spot in the rotation, but I think the Pirates want to slide Burnett into his first start with the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Correia is also familiar with the National League West as he spent parts of eight seasons with the Giants and Padres before signing with the Pirates.
Last year, Correia was solid for the Pirates, going 12-11 with a 4.79 ERA. If he can put up similar numbers this year, the Pirates and Pirate faithful should be content.
5. Charlie Morton
Charlie Morton was one of the more pleasant surprises for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011, especially after a horrid 2010 season which saw his ERA hit 7.57. Morton rebounded nicely, adding a brilliant sinker to his repertoire of pitches, and it certainly helped him.
The only question for Morton is whether he will be fully recovered from hip surgery and can join the rotation at the start of the season. If he is, he is unquestionably a part of the rotation.
According to Pirates.com, Morton made a successful spring debut in his rehab attempts. Still no word on if he will be ready come Opening Day.
If Morton is not ready, there are a handful of guys that could step in and take his spot. James McDonald would be the leader for the No. 5 spot in the rotation if Morton is not ready.
Expect McDonald to be used as a spot starter during the year as well.