After each season ends, I look forward to looking back at divisive players to see how they fared. I did so with Carlos Gomez a couple of weeks ago. Spoiler: the people who believed in him were right, and he looks like a perennial top 15 talent for the time being.
Josh Donaldson was another player that seemed to pit fantasy players against each other. I fell into the camp of “he’s legit,” but not because of my own research. Donaldson spoke at length throughout the season about his development as a hitter, and how not worrying about catching might have helped him finally reach his potential. Eno Sarris of Fangraphs also noted some changes to Donaldson’s approach, which ultimately ended up being career altering.
The book on Donaldson seemed to be: his power is probably legit, but his batting average and on-base skills seem ripe to take a step back; he’s probably more of a top-10/12 option at the hot corner than a top five one. That wasn’t far off, except for a few finer points, including Donaldson’s differing seasons within a season.
Donaldson’s monthly splits don’t look that different … until you get to June. After setting the entire planet on fire in April and May, he cratered in June, when his plate discipline, average, and power dissipated. He wasn’t fantastic in September, either, but his stretch run still paled in comparison to the depths of June.[am4show have=’p4;p7;p11;p13;’ guest_error=’Front Office’ user_error=’Front Office’ ]
There’s a reason sample size is preached. If you only watched Donaldson in June and September, you’d think he was absolutely terrible. Obviously, he isn’t horrible, but he did suffer through two prolonged slumps that, most importantly, included no power.
Despite those two slumps, Donaldson still managed to leave the yard 29 times – five more times than he did last year. As you can tell, though, his power faded as the season wore on, in part due to his rate of pop-ups increasing almost every month after his initial start. It’s probably not a coincidence that Donaldson’s worst months (June and September) are when he was most aggressive, especially versus offspeed offerings – pitches he has historically struggled with.
Luckily for us, though, those two iffy months don’t outweigh the other fantastic ones. Over the course of a full season, his power was fine even though his average – thanks to drop in BABiP that dropped, in part, due to fewer line drives and more flyballs – left some some room for desire.
I don’t mean to gloss over the fact that he hit fewer line drives, but it is one of the least predictive stats in the game, so don’t worry too much about it. It’s probably better to just assume he’s not a .280 hitter. And that’s more due to the function of being a flyball hitter, and not being the fleetest of foot.
All in all, Donaldson was about what was expected, perhaps better, despite his tail-off. And according to Steamer he’s probably going to be fine next season, although a small step back is projected.
Steamer’s first 2015 projection pegs Donaldson at .261/.341/.446 (.347 wOBA), complete with 23 home runs and 160 R+RBI. Those totals are essentially what I expected this season, and they should justify his likely price tag of a fifth or sixth round pick in standard drafts. And, of course, there’s upside for more, but considering Donaldson’s age, I wouldn’t expect too much more.
Oakland’s lineup wavered down the stretch, but they should be decent next season, assuming Donaldson isn’t shipped out of town this winter. Donaldson’s defense is phenomenal and that gives him a nice floor, because he’s likely never going to see the bench even if he struggles at the dish for an extended period, which is important, and often overlooked.
Overall, Donaldson’s likely to be a solid performer next season, with 2013’s power but 2014’s batting average, and that’s probably going to be alright.