McDonald Pitching Like An Ace for Pittsburgh

The Pirates currently sit at 48-95 and hold the worst record in the National League by 9 games and the worst record in the Major Leagues by 8 games. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Pittsburgh: young players like Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, and Pedro Alvarez all have star potential and could be the core that brings Pittsburgh out from their 18 season period of incompetence. All of that talent, however, is in the form of position players, and that, at least partially, explains why the Pirates have allowed 766 runs, the most in the league. Now, in the form of James McDonald, the Pirates finally have a pitcher who at least looks the part of an ace.

Back at the trade deadline, I wrote that the Pirates were big winners. A big reason for that was McDonald, who was acquired for only Octavio Dotel in what I consider to be the biggest steal of trading season. McDonald has rattled off eight fantastic starts for the Pirates since his arrival, striking out 44 batters in 49 innings, walking 18 and allowing only one home run en route to a 3.49 ERA and a fantastic 2.66 FIP.

This comes on the heels of similar numbers in AAA in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. It’s very unlikely that McDonald continues to suppress home runs at the crazy rate that he has so far, particularly given a tiny 30% ground ball rate, but his xFIP of 4.09 is still encouraging, and it’s also unlikely that his ground ball rate remains so low. He had a 44% ground ball rate in his first MLB stint (63 innings) and had a 39% ground ball rate in the minors, and so that rate should climb to around 35% as he pitches more major league innings.

McDonald’s peripheral numbers are actually quite similar to those of hard throwing left handed pitcher David Price of the Rays. Both have K/9 rates around 8.0 and walk rates around 3.5. McDonald has allowed fewer HRs this year in his small sample, but that’s unlikely to continue, as Price has a ground ball percentage in the mid-40s. McDonald’s fastball averages 92.5 MPH to Price’s 94.5, and Price’s arsenal contains a slider whereas McDonald relies on the curveball and changeup as his offspeed pitches. Both draw similar amounts of swinging strikes, with Price at 9.0% on his career and McDonald at 8.8%

Eight starts is nowhere near enough to say that McDonald can be an ace or that he’s the next David Price. Still, he’s shown tremendous potential and has a minor league track record to back it up. The Pirates haven’t seen much in the way of starting pitching talent in a long time. It’s looking like James McDonald will be the first step for the Pirates in their quest to put together a playoff-quality starting rotation.

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24 Responses to “McDonald Pitching Like An Ace for Pittsburgh”

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  1. Chair says:

    #1 I hate Ned Colletti
    #2 McDonald is a right hander
    #3 Octavio Dotel?? Seriously wtf?
    #4 I hate Ned Colletti

    Nice article.

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  2. BX says:

    For those of you keeping score at home, Octavio Dotel has been worth -0.2 WAR, has a 4.47 xFIP out of the pen. AND the Dodgers are 4th in the NL West.

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  3. chuck says:

    yes and add in andrew lambo ta boot

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  4. bender says:

    David Price doesn’t use his slider much anymore, he’s more of a curveball guy now

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  5. thedream says:

    I wonder to what extent the Dodger’s financial issues have affected Colletti’s ability to deal over the past few years because he has been giving prosepcts away like they are going out of style. It’s going to really catch up with them…if it hasn’t already.

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    • Gina says:

      They’ve also had a somewhat nonexistent draft budget, until this year at least. I imagine their farm system must be near barren by now even with Logan White.

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  6. Tom Au says:

    McDonald has had four fantastic starts and four so-so ones.

    That doesn’t quite make him an ace (except maybe for the Pirates).

    But every OTHER start is a quality start, some shutout.

    That and a sub-4 ERA (for the Pirates) spells “second starter” to me (so far)

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    • Christian says:

      You’re right, that’s not too much to give up for Dotel

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    • sean says:

      Consider the Pirates’ “ace” over the past five years or so has been Zach Duke. It’s a sliding scale.

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      • Vlad says:

        The ace, to the extent that there was one, was Maholm, not Duke.

        And it’s also worth noting that most Pittsburgh starters look much worse in ERA than they actually are, because they defense sucks and (with the exception of the first 2/3 of 2009) has for at least six or seven years.

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    • Gina says:

      Does it really matter that much? A second starter is still decidedly more valuable than Dotel and way better than what the pirates currently have.

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  7. Ned Colletti says:

    This guy has no grit at all. Give me a proven gamer any day of the week.

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  8. quincy0191 says:

    Agent Ned has been activated

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  9. Greg says:

    I’d be pissed if I was a Dodgers fan. Ned makes some terrible moves. Don’t forget he gave up Josh Bell for George Sherrill.

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  10. Ned Stinx says:

    And Carlos Santana for Casey Blake.

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    • hk says:

      In the Sports Illustrated article on the McCourt’s divorce, the writer credited Ned with (and I paraphrase from memory) cleverly trading for Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake while getting the trading teams to pay their respective salaries. It’s probably the first and last time “cleverly” will be used to describe trading Santana for Blake and the cash to cover Blake’s contract.

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  11. Bill says:

    And Andy Laroche for Manny Ramirez.

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  12. M says:

    When the judge forces a sale, Ned is the first to go under new management. Please. Before he trades Matt Kemp for 40 year old catcher that hits .200

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  13. Shoeless_Mike says:

    I wonder why the pitch fx data for McDonald has not been updated since his start on 8/27? I;d be curious to see the data, especially for his two most recent starts.


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  14. Not to be “that guy” and pimp my blog, but I think my Pirates 2011 outlook fits in context pretty well.
    McDonald’s been fantastic, and the offensive core is certainly exciting. Don’t want to count their chickens, but the Pirates’ rebuild may actually be working. Octavio Dotel is the new Casey Blake, in that every time he touches the diamond I get to say “well, at least they don’t have James McDonald (or Carlos Santana). Agent Ned FTW.

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  15. Mark says:

    Tabata and Walker, star potential? Walker will at best be a league-average 3B in some other town. Tabata is looking like the second coming of Joe Orsulak so far. Granted, he’s only 22.

    But the Buccos are better than they were on Opening Day, fer sure.

    And Ned Colletti is still the saddest GM in baseball.

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