Sell High Candidate: Can James McDonald Continue His Strong First Half?

Fantasy owners everywhere have got to be asking themselves if James McDonald, a pitcher we have long heard the hype about, has finally realized his full potential. Has he emerged as the ace pitcher many thought he would be for the Dodgers many moons ago? Is he a pitcher that we should sell high on or hold onto with everything we’ve got?

First off we need to look at the numbers he has posted in the first half of 2012:

9 Wins
110.0 Innings
2.37 ERA
0.97 WHIP
100 Strikeouts (8.18 K/9)
31 Walks (2.54 BB/9)
.242 BABIP
78.6% Strand Rate

They are obviously impressive numbers, but there are a few causes for concern. First of all is the obvious, which is his BABIP. Despite posting a 21.9% line drive rate McDonald has managed a below average .242 mark. You would think that, sooner or later, something is going to have to give.

I want to look for hope in his recent numbers, but he has posted just one month with a line drive rate below 22.5% and he is actually on his way to his worst month in July, currently sitting at 26.5%.

Yes, the addition of a slider (according to Fangraphs he is throwing the pitch over 18% of the time, after just 5% a year ago) has certainly helped overall. However, it doesn’t really explain some of the luck we are seeing. It is beneficial and it appears to be keeping opponents off balance, but they are still routinely making solid contact and he isn’t paying the price.

While its not hard to explain the improvement in his strikeout rate (he posted a 9.69 K/9 in the minor leagues), the exceptional control is a slight mystery. Over his minor league career he had a BB/9 of 3.35 and in his Major League career he is at 3.69.

Is something going to give there as well? We have to hope not, but he is at 3.21 in a small July sample. It’s not enough to draw any conclusions on, but something that is worth monitoring.

We also don’t want to ignore his home/road split. At home he has posted a stellar 1.69 ERA, while on the road he is sitting at 3.54. The metrics do get a little convoluted here, as he has been hammered on the road (his line drive rate is 28.4% vs. 17.8% at home), but it still needs to be mentioned. When push comes to shove, his road ERA is probably the type of number we should safely expect moving forward.

The truth is that we have known for a long time that McDonald does have ability, he just needed to put it together. The addition of the slider helped and, at 27-years old, he has the experience and may have simply figured it out. While I do think the BABIP will likely fall into line, meaning a regression is likely in order, that doesn’t mean that he is going to fall into complete unusability.

I would be careful and, if you could get a hefty return for the stretch run, you would be smart to do so (especially in yearly formats). However, keeper league owners can take solace in the fact that McDonald may have finally evolved into the pitcher we have always envisioned. He’s not likely going to be an ace, but a viable option in all formats moving forward.

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