James McDonald, the once top 100 prospect for the Dodgers, has never quite lived up to expectations. He made appearances for the Dodgers in 2008, 2009, and 2010 and he really wasn’t too bad but people expected more. His career ERA with the Dodgers was 4.11 in 76.2 IP and a K/9 of 7.4. At the 2010 trade deadline, the Dodgers were in need of a reliever and Octavio Dotel of the Pirates was the guy they wanted. James McDonald, as well as Andrew Lambo, were dealt toPittsburghin return for Dotel. McDonald finished off 2010 with a solid 3.52 ERA, an 8.6 K/9, and allowed only 3 homeruns in 64 innings for the Pirates.
That brings us to 2011. McDonald began the year with a spot in the rotation and has stuck the entire season. He had a very shaky March and April after posting a 7.66 ERA in 24.2 innings. Then, after a rough start on April 21st in which he gave up 8 runs in 3 innings of work, things really started to click for McDonald. Since that April 21st start, he has a 2.69 ERA in 90.2 innings pitched. Let’s take a look at a month by month break down for McDonald after the month of April.
McDonald struggled in the Month of June but his overall stats still look good. Since the All-Star break, he has gone 2-0 without surrendering a run in 11.2 innings pitched and a very impressive 12.3 K/9.
One of the keys to McDonald’s success has been his new pitching arsenal. His curveball looks to be new and improved as it has added more movement, and as a result, been more successful. If we take a look at the pitch movement charts via Fangraphs, look at the change in his curveball (pictured in purple) from 2009 to 2011.
As you can see, the pitch now has more horizontal movement. This might be why McDonald’s GB% has jumped up 8.2% since last year. It also appears that McDonald has added a two-seamer to his arsenal, which he hasn’t thrown in past seasons. This season, he has been making a lot more batters chase, as his opponents swing and miss rate on balls outside of the strike zone has increased 8.6%. The added movement to his curveball and the addition of a two-seamer could be the reason for this.
While McDonald is pitching great, there is one thing in particular that I think he really needs to improve and that is being more efficient. He has averaged 5.28 innings a start this season (in 20 starts), so not even 5 and a third innings of work. In his starts, he is also averaging 94.25 pitches. With that average pitch count, you would expect more innings of work out of him. His highs for the season are 6.2 innings pitched back in April and a 109 pitch game in June. If he can become more efficient and work later into games, I think this will really help McDonald in improving as a starting pitcher.
If McDonald can continue this success down the stretch, then he should really help the Pirates in their division hunt. One last thing I would like to end on is that at the start of the season, I never thought I would be writing back to back articles on the success of a Pirate’s player not named Andrew McCutchen. They’ve been a surprise to pretty much everyone this year and it will be hard not to cheer forAmerica’s New Team down the stretch.