Tag: James McDonald

Pittsburgh Pirates 2011: Eighteen Seasons and Counting

Now what? The Pirates hit their 18th straight losing season in 2010. The 105 losses of the 2010 season are six more than 2009, which would lead most people to think they only got worse. That isn’t exactly the case. Although they had one of their worst seasons in franchise history, they also showed off a few guys that could really make an impact down the road. Maybe these few guys could even get the Pirates back into the light of a winning season.

The 2011 season promises to bring a lot of questions, and a lot of potential as well. The pitching was a huge problem in 2011, and while there is some promising youth in the batting lineup, the pitching hasn’t improved much. Let’s take a look at some of the guys to watch in 2011 as potential up and coming stars.


#31 Jose Tabata, LF

2010 Stat line (102 games): .305 avg, 121 hits, 61 runs, 4 HR, 35 RBI, 19 steals 

Jose Tabata showed some amazing things in 2010 as a rookie for the Pirates in only 102 games. He definitely isn’t a power hitter, but more of a get-on-base and steal kind of guy. Tabata reminds me a lot of Andrew McCutchen, he has speed and gets hits. He isn’t McCutchen quite yet, but give him a few years and he may get there. He is only 22 years old, he has a ton of time to do it.

The Pirates just need to continue to work with him throughout the many spring trainings to come, and he will develop into something special. In five years or less, look for Tabata to be a big factor for the Pirates.


#18 Neil Walker, 2B

2010 Stat line (110 games): .296 avg, 126 hits, 57 runs, 12 HR, 66 RBI 

Walker is a lot like Tabata, coming on the scene at about the same time, and they both have tons of potential. Walker is a big older than Tabata at 25 years old, but he still has plenty of room to grow. I don’t think he will reach the same height as Tabata, but he will have enough to make an impact on the dying Pirates.

I see Walker as being another get-on-base kind of player, although I think he will develop more power as his career moves along. Those 12 homers in 110 games look somewhat promising. I say by the age of 27 (the so called “power age”) is when Walker will break out. With McCutchen already growing into a veteran, Walker brings a nice balance of youth to the Pirates. He shouldn’t disappoint in 2011.


#17 Pedro Alvarez, 3B

2010 Stat line (95 games): .256 avg, 89 hits, 42 runs, 16 HR, 64 RBI

Pedro Alvarez, like Walker and Tabata, came up to the MLB with about 100 games left in the season. Alvarez, as you can see, has some pop, but also has some trouble getting contact with that .256 average. I expect him to bring that average up a good bit, and at the same time bring the home run total up. He only has room to grow, being only 23 years old. I expect at least 20 home runs and at least a .260-.270 average next year.

This season will be his first full season of his career in the MLB, along with Tabata and Walker, so look for them to work out the kinks and improve greatly off of this season.


#53 James McDonald, SP

2010 Stat line (with Pirates) (11 games started): 4-5, 3.52 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 61 K’s, 24 walks, 64 innings pitched, 8.6 K/9

The Pirates pitching in 2010 was absolutely horrific. McDonald may be able to change that in 2011. He ended the season with six straight starts in which he did not let up more than three runs. He is more of a strikeout pitcher than any of the other Pirates on this staff. He will most likely be the Pirates ace for 2011, and look for him to make an impact.

At just 26 years old, McDonald has a couple more years to grow. He will have to work on limiting the hits, as he had a fairly high 1.30 WHIP. He seems to be able to limit the walks, but the 59 hits he gave up with the Pirates is a bit high. I can see McDonald being a very valuable pitcher in a pitching system that is completely depleted. 

These four guys are all guys I could see making a big impact on the 2011 season. Spring training will be a crucial time for them, as will the next couple of seasons. If these guys stay with the team and improve and grow on yearly basis, the Pirates could very well put together a winning season in two to three years.

So, can the Pirates break the terrible streak before it hits 20? I guess we will have to wait and see.

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Why James McDonald Is a Better Pitcher Than Brad Lincoln

We know that James McDonald can pitch six blank frames on a good night. We also know that he has at least moderate durability, lasting five innings or so while giving up four runs on less stellar occasions.

Not bad for a rookie. On paper, at least, he is beginning to look a bit like Brad Lincoln.

Lincoln had one very strong outing of seven innings of shutout ball in a 2-0 decision. He’s also had a number of mediocre five and six inning starts, with only some of the latter qualifying as quality starts.

But there is a tie breaker that appears to work in McDonald’s favor, at least for now: strength of schedule.

McDonald has started against three NL West division teams: the San Diego Padres (last night), the Colorado Rockies (several days ago), and the San Francisco Giants (as a Dodger).

Assuming he stays with the Pirates, he won’t get a chance to go against his former Dodger teammates for the rest of the season or face the Diamondbacks.

McDonald’s two weaker starts came against the top two NL West division contenders. It goes back to the fact that the Pirates are not yet competitive against contenders. But that’s a side issue for now, as long as they beat other, weaker teams.

His shutout came against a pretty good (better than .500) Colorado Rockies team. That suggests he might be good for quality starts (not necessarily zero-run games) against non-contenders.

On the other hand, Lincoln’s strongest showing came against the Chicago Cubs, the one outfit the Pirates have feasted on—even with the likes of Charlie Morton and Brian Burres on the hill.

No kudos here.

Lincoln has posted weak showings against teams like the Washington Nationals, the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Houston Astros, whom the Pirates will HAVE to beat if they are to amount to anything.

No help for the club there.

For now, at least, James McDonald looks like a better bet for fifth starter than Brad Lincoln. Better than Dan McCutchen. Probably better than Charlie Morton or Kevin Hart.

And it goes back to the fact that “another Brad Lincoln,” or better, (plus a fielding prospect) will have been a great return in a trade for two months of a closer named Octavio Dotel.

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Could James McDonald Be a Fantasy Baseball September Sleeper?

There were a lot of young players traded over the past few weeks, but one of the most interesting names was James McDonald, who was traded as part of the deal that sent Octavio Dotel to the Dodgers (click here for more on the trade).  McDonald was not only considered one of the Dodgers best prospects heading into 2009, but Baseball America ranked him as the 56th best prospect in all of baseball.

At the time they were very positive about his stuff, though they also said:

“McDonald’s fastball is very straight, and when he pitches as a starter it has fringy velocity at 87-91 mph. However, his secondary pitches help compensate for his fastball’s shortcomings. His curveball can be inconsistent at times.”

That would make it seem like maybe he is better suited out of the bullpen, which is where he has spent the majority of his time as a Major Leaguer (48 out of 53 appearances).  It also is where some people believe he belongs long-term.  His fastball has averaged 92.7 mph, so maybe there is some credence to that.

Still, it’s impossible to ignore his minor league success.  Heading into 2010, he had posted a 3.40 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 455.0 innings.  Couple that with a K/9 of 10.0 and a BB/9 of 3.4, and there is a lot to like.

That success also came in the Pacific Coast League, though not in huge sample sizes:

  • 2008 – 22.1 IP, 3.63 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
  • 2009 – 30.1 IP, 3.26 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 11.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9

This season has been a different story.  He posted a 4.41 ERA and 1.39 WHIP.  The strikeouts are down, at 8.1 K/9.  The walks are fairly steady, with a BB/9 of 3.4.

What has really changes is his luck.  Prior to 2010, he had enjoyed a believable .301 BABIP overall.  This season he is at .332.  That certainly helps explain his drop in production.  While it doesn’t explain the strikeouts, it’s hard to imagine that he’s simply lost his ability to generate swings and misses.

I wouldn’t say we should expect him to be a 10 strikeout guy in the Major Leagues, but there’s no reason to think that he can’t be a 7.5-8.0 K/9 pitcher if he gets a spot in the rotation.

That alone makes him worth monitoring, because potential strikeout options don’t simply grow on trees.  They are hard to find at this time of year, so when one appears, there’s no reason not to stash him on your bench if you have an open spot, and see what happens.

He’s likely to struggle at times, as he really hasn’t been given a fair shake in a Major League rotation.  He’s certainly not going to be a must use option.  However, the potential is there.  He has the track record, including at the highest levels, to make you think that maybe, just maybe, you’ll catch lightning in a bottle.

Don’t plan on using him every time out, but stash him away in deeper formats and hope for the best.  He’s going to start in the Pirates bullpen, but it’s hard to imagine him not getting a shot soon.

What are your thoughts on McDonald?  Could he prove usable?

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