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Split Squad: The Big Mac in Pittsburgh

Conan Hines

Conan Hines writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

My compatriot, Justin Green, is on a road trip off in Oregon. Unfortunately for him I believe the Sea Dogs’ season is over. But instead of kicking the column for the week, I decided to profile Pirates pitcher James McDonald. I know Justin would have been happy to disagree on the merit of owning such a player, but with him out of the picture, I’m here to brainwash you.

The Big Mac in Pittsburgh (by Conan Hines)

Recently traded from the Dodgers to the lowly Pirates – where future pitching greats rarely even get the chance to be “has beens” – McDonald has been on the radar before. In 2008, after striking out 141 in 141 minor league innings, McDonald was called up to Los Angeles in September to toss a few innings, made the playoff roster, and actually was used in some crucial spots. McDonald's performance opened the door for him to be part of the 2009 rotation. Unfortunately, he had a horrible spring, getting rocked for 12 ER on 14 hits and posting a 2:5 K:BB ratio - all in just 5.1 innings. McDonald was sent to the bullpen, where he was decent, but perhaps a little lucky (4.00 ERA, 4.48 FIP).

McDonald remained an option coming into this year, but at 25, he wasn’t as hyped as he was in 2009. He spent most of his time between Triple-A and the DL before getting traded to Pittsburgh in the Octavio Dotel deal. He wasn’t overly impressive in 63 Triple-A innings, and Ned Coletti felt it was time to end the McDonald experiment and get whatever value he could before it was too late.

Since joining the Buckos, the pressure has been off, and McDonald has been handed the ball seven times. He is 3-4 but seems to have regained his command and has only walked more than three batters in a game once with Pittsburgh (and more than two batters just twice). McDonald's last start in Atlanta was a gem. Although he only struck out three, he tossed seven shutout innings to pick up the victory. McDonald's next start will come in New York, a favorable matchup against a lineup that is a shell of its old self. That should be followed with home starts versus Arizona and St. Louis, with his last one coming against either in St. Louis or Florida.

If you need a starter for the last half of September, and your waiver wire is a bit dry, I endorse McDonald. His biggest challenge would be in St. Louis, but if you need the innings and the stats, he should be able to come through. Don’t be fooled by McDonald's ERA (4.81), it is a bit inflated due to a .352 BABIP. His FIP is actually an efficient 3.00. If McDonald can control the walks and maintain his strikeout rate (8.69), then he’s a no-brainer amongst the pitching scrap heap.

Although, if you usually agree with Justin, I guess you can always go after Dave Bush.