Nate Karns’ Value to the Kansas City Royals

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CHICAGO, IL - JULY 29: Nathan Karns #13 of the Seattle Mariners pitches in the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Trade rumors had been surrounding Jarrod Dyson for awhile, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when the Kansas City Royals acquired pitcher Nate Karns from the Seattle Mariners for the outfielder last week.

Nate Karns’ Value to the Kansas City Royals

Fans were sad to see Dyson go. His swanky personality was perhaps more notable than the amount of playing time he received. He coined the memorable tagline “That’s what speed do”, and proved “what speed do” time and time again on the base paths and in the outfield. Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. But what, exactly, is Nate Karns’ value to the Royals?

Where does Karns fit in?

General Manager Dayton Moore stated that Karns will be competing for a rotation spot, but the Royals may send him to the bullpen if he can become a power reliever. Over his career, batters have hit .247 the first time through the order, .212 the second time through the order, and .287 the third time through the order. If Karns happens to make four trips through the order, batters hit .500 and slug .625 against him.

Although that is from a small sample size, it appears that once he starts a third trip through the order, Ned Yost will need to watch him carefully. According to FanGraphs, Karns throws a fastball, a knuckle curve, and a changeup. With only three pitches, batters have seen everything he has to offer after two at-bats; that can severely limit how far Karns can go in a game.

Another problem is that Karns has recorded just 16.1 innings as a reliever, with a 7.71 ERA. All these things point to him as a prime candidate for being moved to the bullpen. The Royals could turn him into a very good reliever, as they have done with many other failed starters. If Karns does wind up in the bullpen, it will allow him to cut loose for an inning. This could improve his velocity. In 2016, Karns’ fastball averaged 92.9 mph, so it’s not out of the question to see it jump to the mid-90’s in a relief position.

A New Hope

Fangraphs also reported that Karns’ fastball ranked among the best in rise and spin in 2015. However, in 2016, he finished in the bottom half among qualifiers. Batters used to see the ball an inch higher at the plate than they expected; now, the fastball is worse than average in that regard.

Driveline Baseball discovered some evidence pointing to a drop in spin rate as a marker for unhealthy fatigue. Sure enough, there was a decline into two exits – July 30th and September 1st – for a lower back strain. It might sound strange, but in this instance, Karns’ injury history provides some hope for the Royals. If his health improves, it’s fixable. It’s a mechanical issue.

The Unknown

Overall, Karns’ numbers aren’t anything to shout about. He appears to be a fifth starter or middle reliever. Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland could perhaps make him a lot better, and that may be why Dayton Moore took a chance on him. Its probably best to keep an open mind on Karns until fans learn what Nate Karns’ value really is.

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