The Dodgers are coming off a season in which they won their division and finished second in the National League. Yet, it’s possible they could lose two-fifths of their rotation, their starting left fielder, and non-tender their closer. Whether the Dodgers decide to invest money towards CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez, or whomever else is up to be decided, but one thing that should be a given is the placement of James McDonald in the starting rotation.
Despite making a cameo in the Dodgers playoff run late last season, McDonald is still a relative unknown. A low-90’s fastball and mid-70’s breaking stuff doesn’t do much for the imagination, but McDonald has shown the ability to excel without any pitch that “grades out” and commands a strong minor league track record. Drafted as a pitcher, McDonald spent 2003 in rookie ball, throwing 49 innings and showing little concern for the opposing lineup’s collective confidence levels. In 2004, the Dodgers would shift McDonald to the outfield and give him a bat. He’d struggle in 125 at-bats, recording only three extra base hits, and having a 12:44 walk-to-strikeout ratio. That would’ve been excellent, if only he were still pitching.
Los Angeles would correct their error in 2006, and McDonald would return to dominating in 2007; breezing through High-A and Double-A with K/BB ratios over four and FIPs of 2.88 and 3.03. McDonald spent most of 2008 in Double-A, encountering a few hiccups; the most prevalent being a decreased strikeout ratio and increased walk ratio. A 22 innings stint in Las Vegas capped off McDonald’s minor league season, as he soon joined the major league club.
Since 2007, McDonald faced 1,047 batters in the minors. Of those, 281 struck out, or 27%. That’s pretty impressive for someone without “plus stuff”. The one downfall for McDonald could be his fly ball tendencies leading to potentially high homerun totals. McDonald didn’t show too many concerns about this in the minors, with HR/9 ratios usually clocking in just under one per, and pitching within the homerun suppressant Dodger Stadium should help, but the out-via-air patterns are worth noting.
Marcels isn’t much help with McDonald’s non-existent major league profile, but it’s easy to see McDonald lapping Brad Penny’s 2008, and being a bit of a sleeper in wins, strikeouts, and WHIP categories.