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The Dodgers’ Fifth Starter

Amusing quote from Buster Olney’s column yesterday:

“We’d love to have a bona fide No. 5 starter,” said Colletti.

Olney frames this quote in response to Colletti listing a handful of names that qualify as unknowns, has-beens, or never-will-be types. Why is this amusing? Because, a bona fide number five starter generally fits into one of those categories. Matthew did some work on rotation slots in reality by tRA in late 2008. He found that number five starters were something like 24% below league average. Dave Cameron chimed in below in the comments section and it’s worth a read, if only for some constructive thinking. Matthew surmises the number five starter in his piece as such:

TO BE PERFECTLY CLEAR: By this definition, a #5 starter is probably not what most people term a #5 starter. I assume that when most people talk about a #5 starter, they talk about some mythical rotation that almost never misses a start and this person being the worst pitcher on it. For the most part, those rotations do not happen. A #5 as defined below represents the combined worst starters to have actually pitched. In my opinion, this is the more useful definition, because this way, having health is properly weighted and you get a notion for the level of scarcity that exists.

By this definition, the Dodgers do have a bona fide number five starter already. Even last year, the Dodger pitcher who made the fifth most starts was Eric Stults. He started 10 times and had a 5.54 xFIP. The list of alley cats Olney provides includes Charlie Haeger (profiled on this very site multiple times), James McDonald, Ramon and Russ Ortiz, and even Josh Towers amongst others. Frankly, I had no idea a few of those guys were still pitching baseballs. McDonald, though, is an interesting option.

McDonald has made nearly 90 starts in the minors, including 42 between Triple- and Double-A. At both destinations McDonald struck out at least nine per nine and walked between three and four batters per nine. He turned 25 in October and started last season in the Dodgers’ rotation. He would only make four starts, as he walked 14 in 13.1 innings and struck out only six. Upon a move to the bullpen, McDonald looked like his minor league self, posting a SO/BB of 2.4 and striking out roughly one batter pr inning.

His stuff doesn’t seem to stink, either: a low-90s fastball, curve, and change. Each pitch was whiffed on at least 8% of the time. His fastball shows great “rise” which makes up for some lackadaisical run. Those whiff rates will likely decrease upon a move back to the rotation, but McDonald’s body of work makes him more appealing than the Ortizes of the world. Plus, who knows, maybe he turns into more than a bona fide number five.