Front Office

Josh Donaldson: Hot Streak or Breakout?

Josh Donaldson of the Oakland Athletics has been tearing it up this season. Donaldson is slashing a .315/.387/.523 line that has the entire fantasy community wondering if it’s just a hot streak or if he’s enjoying a sustainable breakout season. Donaldson is 27 years old with an interesting minor league history.

Throughout the minors Donaldson has enjoyed a pattern that involves struggling the first time through the league before mastering it the second time. Let’s take a look.

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Year Affiliate PA BB% K% BA/OBP/SLUG ISO BABIP
2008 Cubs (A) 254 6.7% 16.1% .217/.276/.349 .132 .239
2008 Athletics (A+) 207 8.2% 14.0% .330/.391/.564 .234 .353

 

Year Affiliate PA BB% K% BA/OBP/SLUG ISO BABIP
2009 Athletics (AA) 541 14.8% 17.0% .270/.379/.415 .238 .320

 

Year Affiliate PA BB% K% BA/OBP/SLUG ISO BABIP
2010 Athletics (AAA) 348 12.9% 22.7% .238/.336/.476 .238 .255
2010 Athletics (MLB) 34 5.9% 35.3% .156/.206/.281 .125 .211

 

Year Affiliate PA BB% K% BA/OBP/SLUG ISO BABIP
2011 Athletics (AAA) 503 10.1% 19.9% .261/.344/.439 .178 .301

 

Year Affiliate PA BB% K% BA/OBP/SLUG ISO BABIP
2012 Athletics (AAA) 234 9.8% 14.5% .335/.402/.598 .263 .350
2012 Athletics (MLB) 294 4.8% 20.7% .241/.289/.398 .157 .278

 

Year Affiliate PA BB% K% BA/OBP/SLUG ISO BABIP
2013 Athletics (MLB) 168 10.7% 15.1% .315/.387/.523 .208 .353

 

That may be more information than is necessary to complete the correlation, however, it’s important to notice the BABIP numbers (highlighted in bold) for the seasons that he dominated the level the second time around. In other words, his current .353 BABIP is actually sustainable based on his history.

More proof is available in the pudding of his plate approach. These stats are reliable after 150 plate appearances. Donaldson has 168. Stats courtesy of FanGraphs

Year Chase % O-Zone Contact % Zone Contact % SwStr %
2012 31.9% 64.5% 83.5% 11.4%
2013 27.8% 74.8% 85.5% 8.0%

 

Furthermore, Donaldson has improved mightily against hard stuff (fastballs, sinkers and cutters). He was 17-90 (.189 BA) against hard stuff in the zone in 2012. Graphic for this is available here. So far in 2013, Donaldson is 15-46 (.326 BA) against hard stuff in the zone. Graphic is available here.

Donaldson is absolutely enjoying a breakout season for the Athletics at age 27. He is hitting in the middle of a pretty decent lineup and is 4th in the league with 25 RBI’s for a third baseman. Owners would do well to trade for him in leagues with savvy experts who think they are selling high. I project him for a .300 BA, 15 HR, 85 RBI, 80 R, 8 SB – and that’s on the low end with regression built in. He can be a top 5 third baseman if he can maintain this level of play.

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