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Entries in Edwin Jackson (2)


The Fantasy Baseball Diary: James McDonald

James McDonald is looking to rebound in 2013.Last night I gave myself a break from work and went to see one of my favorite bands ever: . The best comp I can give is they remind me of a mellower Pavement, which greatly undersells how good they are. Based in San Diego, their music reflects the climate and vibe of the city. Their records are best played while driving in your car during the summer. The only negative by-product of the show is, despite washing my hands four times I still have the stamp from the show because the bouncer stamped my hand with the force of a Justin Verlander fastball.

As I drove home after the show I was thinking about potential players with enigmatic fantasy value. The first player I thought of was James McDonald. Although his final accounting statistics don't look overly impressive, during the first half of the season he was a fantasy superstar.

In his first 17 starts, he was unhittable with a 2.37 ERA, 8.18 K/9 and 2.54 BB/9.

After that great stretch, he was awful, posting a 7.53 ERA, 7.53 K/9 and 5.61 BB/9 in the next 13 starts.

What happened to McDonald?

The table below shows the percent difference in pitch usage by game situation for his first 17 starts compared to the poor 13 starts. Overall, McDonald used four-seam fastball and slider, his best pitch, less often – four percent and three percent respectively.  


Like most pitchers, the four-seam fastball was his primary pitch (thrown 46% of the time) in order to setup his secondary pitches. During the 17 excellent starts hitters were only hitting .230 against the four-seam fastball. However, during the poor starts it became more hittable; hitters had a .372 batting average.

Here's the difference in pitch location frequency of his four-seam fastball 

The big difference was the location. During the first 17 starts he threw the fastball for strikes 66% of the time compared to only 63% of the time the remainder of the season. Also, when he was throwing strikes, the strikes he was throwing were left up and over the middle of the plate, which found more barrels of bats.

It’s seems overly simplistic to say four-seam fastball location was the sole reason for the turn in McDonald’s season, but the biggest increase in batting average came from the four-seam fastball. Not surprisingly, all his secondary pitches saw an increase in batting average too.


“Like real estate, location is everything.” - Vin Scully

The same is true with pitch location. Command of a primary pitch, in most cases the fastball, is necessary to have sustained success as a starting pitcher because it allows secondary pitches to be more effective. Without fastball command an otherwise above average breaking ball becomes average and more hittable. McDonald’s season is a reminder of how delicate success can be in the majors.

What's McDonald's Fantasy Value in 2013?

Despite the subpar year, McDonald is someone I’ll be targeting in drafts. At Mock Draft Central he’s the 63rd starting pitcher being taken, after limited upside pitchers such as Scott Baker and Edwin Jackson. His slider had the ninth highest swing-and-miss rate of any starting pitcher in the league, so he can miss bats. Couple that with the elite performance he’s already shown, albeit in a small sample, tells me it’s possible for him to be a top 20 fantasy pitcher. I suspect as we get closer to draft day his draft position will increase. If he falls to the 50th pitcher overall I’ll take a chance on him.


Edwin Jackson, Slider Specialist

At long last, Edwin Jackson can unpack -- we think. While his four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs doesn't include a no-trade clause, Jackson should at least call Wrigley Field home for the next couple of years. Considering that the 29-year-old righty was on pace to obliterate Octavio Dotel's record for most teams played for in a career -- Jackson has been a Dodger, Devil Ray, Tiger, Diamondback, White Sock, Cardinal and National, and was technically a Blue Jay for a brief moment (though he never suited up) -- that's a step in the right direction.

It's surprising that it has taken Jackson this long to settle down in one city. He might not be the Cy Young contender that people envisioned when he celebrated his 20th birthday by outdueling Randy Johnson during his MLB debut, but Jackson has been above-average since he reached Detroit (106 ERA+ from 2009-12) while tossing slightly over 200 innings pitched per season. That combination of quality and quantity has made Jackson the 29th-most valuable starter over that time frame, judging by Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement.

Jackson's slider is the main reason that he has evolved from a perceived bust to a solid starter making serious bank. Here's a closer look at his mid-to-high-80s breaker, which ranks among the game's best out pitches.

  • Jackson threw his slider 29.3% of the time in 2012, the ninth-highest clip among MLB starters. Ryan Dempster (39.5%), Madison Bumgarner (35.6%), Bud Norris (36.3%), Ervin Santana (36.3%), Francisco Liriano (32.5%), Jason Marquis (32.1%), CC Sabathia (31.8%) and Bruce Chen (29.9%) were the only starters to rely on the slide-piece more often.
  • With a miss rate approaching 50%, Jackson got swings and misses with his slider more frequently than any other starter in the game:

Highest slider whiff rate among MLB starters, 2012 (minimum 300 thrown)

Pitcher Miss Pct.
Edwin Jackson 48.5%
Zack Greinke 44.7%
Yu Darvish 44.2%
James McDonald 43.9%
Francisco Liriano 43.3%
CC Sabathia 43.0%
Colby Lewis 42.5%
Clayton Kershaw 42.3%
Derek Holland 41.8%
Max Scherzer 41.7%
MLB Avg. for SP 30.9%


  • Jackson uses his slider as a chase pitch, placing just 37.3% of them within the strike zone. The average for starters, by contrast, is about 47%. Hitters can't seem to lay off those off-the-plate-sliders. Check out Jackson's swing rate by pitch location with his slider, and then the league average for right-handed starting pitchers:

        Jackson's slider swing rate             Avg. slider swing rate for SP


Jackson boasted the highest slider chase rate (44.1%) among NL starters last year. In the AL, only Colby Lewis (50.7% slider chase rate), Brian Matusz (48.3%), Yu Darvish (44.6%) and Liriano (44.6%) made batters hack at more would-be balls.

  • Fanning 111 hitters with his out pitch, Jackson led NL starters in slider strikeouts and trailed just Sabathia (138 slider Ks) among all starters.
  • While the slider is usually more effective against same-handed hitters, Jackson actually got better results with the pitch against lefties. He held left-handers to a .299 slugging percentage against his slider, compared to .361 against righties. For comparison's sake, righty starters surrendered a collective .386 slugging percentage with sliders against lefty batters last season, and a .350 slugging percentage against righties.