Bloomberg Sports Anchors Rob Shaw and Julie Alexandria discuss the top five stories in baseball after the All-Star break.
Will R.A. Dickey win 20 games?
Baseball fans are trying to figure out if R.A. Dickey is Tom Candiotti or Phil Niekro. At 12-1, Dickey is enjoying a banner season and arguably would be the NL Cy Young award winner if the season ended today. The problem for Dickey is that the season does not end today and he still has about 15 starts to go. Can he possibly continue his dominance and nab another eight wins for an even 20?
Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro attained three different seasons with 20 or more wins. On the other hand, Dickey might only win another 3-5 games this season and finish with a solid, but more expected total that is more in line with a solid hurler, such as knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, who won 14, 15 and 16 games in his career.
What becomes of Tim Lincecum?
The good news is that Tim Lincecum is on pace to strikeout 200 batters. The bad news is that he is also approaching 100 walks, which could lead to some time in the bullpen. We’ve had some surprises this year that fill the bust category. As of now both Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols join a recent trend of major free agents struggling with new franchises.
Lincecum is pitching for the very franchise he came up with and has dominated for the last five seasons. However, he is getting hit often and hard, and with a 3-10 record and 6.42 ERA you have to wonder if he will stick in the starting rotation all season long. Lincecum hasn’t made it out of the fourth inning in back-to-back outings.
Where will Zack Greinke end up?
The Brewers have had their struggles and perhaps for that reason, Zack Greinke’s performance has gone under the radar. He is 9-3 with 111 K’s and a 3.32 ERA. With the Brewers five games out of first place, the team will be in sell mode especially if Greinke does not indicate that he wants to stick there.
So what teams could be interested? How about the Baltimore Orioles, or the St. Louis Cardinals? Greinke’s presence could make a world of difference in how this ost-season shapes up.
Are the Phillies buyers or sellers?
The Phillies are in dead last place in the National League East. They opened the season without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and now that they are coming back, the pitchers have been out: Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.
The big question for the Phillies is figuring out whether or not Cole Hamels will stay as a free agent. There have been rumblings that he could be destined to the Dodgers, which would leave the Phillies in a bind if they do not get anything in return for his services aside from draft picks. Hamels, by the way, is 10-4 with a 3.20 ERA with 118 K’s and a 1.10 WHIP. He has been the ace for the Phillies this season.
Are the Pirates playoff bound?
The Pirates are in first place late in the season for a second straight year. The question is whether they can stick this time and if they learned from last year’s collapse. It looks like they could actually stick this time for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they have an ace with James McDonald boasting a 2.37 ERA with much better control this season. Next, their gamble with AJ Burnett seems to be paying off as he’s been a solid number two. Though the starting rotation lacks depth, the bullpen is strong enough to let leads stick.
Finally, on offense there are several solid players, then an MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen and a potential star in Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates lack some depth, but so far they have been good enough, and with extra wild card spots available, this team could advance.
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If the Pirates are finally going to creep above mediocrity this season it will require James McDonald to evolve into a staff ace. The Pirates hurler who touches the low 90s went 9-9 last season with a 4.21 ERA. He would have been much better if he was able to do better than a walk every other inning.
This season McDonald has been better. The opposition has had a hard time hitting him, to the tune of a .213 average. Plus, his walks are way down this season resulting in a 1.09 WHIP and a 2.70 ERA. He is riding a hot streak, allowing just one hit in seven innings in a tough no decision against the Rockies, then picking up a win with 10 K’s in Atlanta, followed by another win with one crossing the dish against him by a solid Reds offense.
McDonald’s success is entirely dependent on his control. He has the stuff to keep batters off edge at the plate, but he has to keep them off the bases via free passes. With the Pirates looking to develop young talent with the hope of contending in the short-term, McDonald will have to lead a staff that is comprised of retreads such as Erik Bedard and AJ Burnett.
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Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
The fantasty season is not over for one of the biggest busts in the league Pedro Alvarez. The second overall pick of the 2008 draft, we expected big things out of the Vanderbilt alumnus, but instead, his average sits at just .211 with two home runs and 10 RBI. After an extended stay on the disabled list and then a month’s worth of at bats in the Minor Leagues, Alvarez is back. He will bat in the middle of the Pirates lineup and will have ever chance to succeed once again. The third base position is pretty shallow this season with talent, making fantasy managers quick to forgive players like Alvarez.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox
The man traded for Mark Teixeira a few years back is finally an everyday player in the Big Leagues. Just 26 years old, Salty is having his best season to date. His eight home runs are just one shy of his career-high and the same can be said of his 12 doubles. He is not the best defensive catcher in baseball, but he has been adequate and his respectable on base percentage with some pop makes him a dangerous bat in the Red Sox lineup.
Jeff Karstens, SP, Pirates
This former Yankees prospect is not just having a good season, he is having a Cy Young caliber season! At 28 years old, the right-handed finesse hurler boasts a 2.28 ERA with a stellar 1.04 WHIP. His lack of strikeouts may frustrate some fantasy managers, but Karstens has surrendered just 11 earned runs over his last 10 starts.
Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies
You have to wonder how many chances this guy will get but because of injuries and the struggles of his peers, Dexter Fowler is getting another shot to leadoff for the Rockies. Fowler is batting .342 since the All-Star break with 10 runs in 11 games with three steals. Just 25 years old, Fowler is too young to turn the page on for now.
James McDonald, SP, Pirates
There is no question about it, of all of the Pirates hurlers, James McDonald has the best stuff. Sure, he has some control issues, but his 92 strikeouts, seven wins, and 3.95 ERA will get your attention. A former top prospect with the Dodgers, McDonald has gone 11-9 with a 3.79 ERA in 31 starts. At 26 years old, McDonald should still have his best years ahead of him.
By R.J. Anderson //
Biggest Surprise: James McDonald
No secret to regular Bloomberg Sports blog readers, is a favorite ’round these parts. McDonald is worthy of the endearment thrown his way because of his stellar strikeout rate (8.32 K/9 IP). His playable 4.09 ERA is backed by a 3.19 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, a stat that runs along the same scale as ERA but strips out the impact of defense, park effects and other factors beyond a pitcher’s control). McDonald was acquired for a half season of a non-elite reliever, a technique Billy Beane described as “Building a Closer” in Moneyball.
Biggest Bust: Charlie Morton
One of the keys in the Nate McLouth deal, Morton’s 2010 season never opened the Pleasantville gates. Good build and strong velocity make Morton a pitcher scouts like, but his stuff ha yet to translate to strikeouts in the big leagues. After returning from the disabled list, the occasional big strikeout game disappeared too, making him virtually unwatchable. He’s better than the abysmal 8.11 ERA he’s posted this season, but there are many pitchers with a lot more potential, even in deep leagues.
2011 Keeper Alert: James McDonald
McDonald should get his first shot at a 200-inning season next year, which could translate into lots of strikeouts and solid ratios, even if the win total might falter playing for the rebuilding Pirates.
2011 Regression Alert: Paul Maholm
Maholm is a groundball-heavy pitcher who relies heavily on his infield defense taking fieldable balls and converting them into outs. Unfortunately, the infield defense did not do a worthwhile job this season, and thus, Maholm wound up with an ERA over 5. If the Pirates address their hole-filled defense this off-season, expect Maholm to bounce back and make for a nifty sleeper.
By R.J. Anderson //
James McDonald’s career has been anything but usual. Originally positioned as an outfielder, McDonald was converted to pitching during the 2006 season. He made his major league debut two years later in a relief capacity. Entering the 2009 season, the Dodgers deployed McDonald to the rotation, but quickly pulled the plug after four so-so efforts.
Most of the narrative about McDonald’s 2010 season rests in the minors. He made four appearances for the Blue Crew with one start before Ned Colletti shipped him to the Pirates along with another prospect for Octavio Dotel. The Dodgers still had illusions of postseason berth and yet the consensus at the time was something along the lines of, “That’s a bit too much for a reliever.” The consensus seven starts into McDonald’s career is now, “That was way too much for a reliever.”
McDonald’s performance is more responsible for the attitude shift than Dotel’s – although worsened peripherals have lead to an improved ERA – as the 25-year-old lanky righty has adapted well to the new environment. The Pirates have a reputation for their inability to develop power – read: strikeout – pitchers. McDonald may not possess a great American fastball, but he makes up for it with a freedom ringing curve and glistening change. Both of which have whiff rates over 13% since McDonald has began to don the black and yellow. Observe the portrait of a good McDonald start (i.e. mixing locations and keeping his offspeed stuff down):
With all of this hype, McDonald’s 4.17 ERA looks unsavory, even sour. Where’s the fire with this smoke? The peripherals are ablaze; his FIP is 2.63 and his xFIP – which corrects his unsustainably low home run rate – is at 3.92. If he’s not giving up home runs, limiting his walks, and striking out most of the population, then how are teams scoring? Easy: the Pirates’ porous defense. That’s not just porous as in holey, but porous as in: the pitching staff is left saying, “Poor us.”
Neal Huntington and the rest of the Buccos’ front office is top notch – no, really – and fixing the defense should be the primary objective this offseason. It would certainly be hard to downgrade the leather. With that in mind, McDonald makes for an interesting case. Given the division and pitcher friendly ballpark, as well as extremely low costs, McDonald might be worth keeping in deeper National League only leagues, or at worst placing him on the watch list for next season.