James McDonald has been impressive so far this season in compiling 2.42 ERA and 39 strikeouts against 15 walks, and those outside the Pittsburgh sphere are quickly beginning to take notice. In fact, Jason Dunbar of The Hardball Times ranks McDonald's slider as the second-best swing-and-miss pitch deployed by any starter in the National League, while hinting that he still thinks the Huntington Beach, Calif. native has room to grow.
Though the 27-year-old Pirate is showing signs of figuring it out in the early going, this is probably our first example of a guy with tantalizing stuff who just can’t put it all together.
Yet, one thing’s for sure: his slider has worked spectacularly for him over the past season or so. Though the explanation may just be small sample size (he’s thrown it 231 times since the start of 2011), hitters are still whiffing at an impressive 49 percent rate during that span.
Cole Hamels' changeup was the only pitch ranked ahead of McDonald's slider among N.L. starters. Jeff Samardzija's splitter/changeup, Clayton Kershaw's curveball and Edinson Volquez's change-up were ranked 3-4-5.
Pirates catcher Rod Barajas credited McDonald's slider with helping McDonald set a career high in strikeouts with 10 in a 9-3 win against the Braves on April 30, so it should be interesting to see if McDonald can continue to baffle hitters with the pitch moving forward. As Dunbar notes, hitters haven't seen a whole lot of the pitch so far. It remains to be seen if McDonald can throw it as effectively once the league makes an adjustment to it after seeing its devastating effects last month in Atlanta.
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