Does Long Beach-born pitcher James McDonald have the most wicked slider in baseball?
The pride of Long Beach Poly High and Golden West College in Huntington Beach has had his slider ranked the second best swing-and-miss pitch among National League starters this season.
Let's go the video . . .
McDonald's slider has certainly helped change his fortunes. Drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round of the 2002 draft, the 6-foot-4, 205 lbs. righthander was up and down in Los Angeles until he and minor league outfielder Andrew Lambo were traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Octavio Dotel in July 2010.
With a four-seam fastball clocked at 91-94 mph, a curveball in the 75-77 mph range and that wicked slider at 79-82 mph, McDonald has compiled a middling career win-loss record of 20-22, an okay ERA of 3.84 and a more impressive 304 strikeouts. This season, he is off to 2-2 start, with a 2.42 ERA and 39 K's for a Pirates team that is currently in third place in the NL Central.
McDonald's actually been reborn in Pittsburgh, pitching six shutout innings in his Pirate debut (a win), tossing two consecutive shutouts in September 2010 and compiling a franchise second-best 20 consecutive scoreless innings that season. He also had an eight-strikeout game that debut season, which had been a career best until this past April 30, when he notched 10 K's in a 9-3 win over the Atlanta Braves. Bucs catcher Rod Barajas credited McDonald's slider for that performance.
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Indeed, Jason Dunbar of The Hardball Times only ranked Phillies pitcher Cole Hamel's change-up as a more un-hittable pitch among National League starters than McDonald's slider, although the observer begins with a possible out in offering such high praise.
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.
Can't put it together? I'd like to see Dunbar get in the box and take a couple high-and-tight, 91-94 mph fastballs before McDonald breaks out that slider.