With all of the offensive talent oozing from the third base position, it’s easy to forget to appreciate just how dominant some of the upper tier players at the hot corner actually are. In no case may this be more true than that of Josh Donaldson. Not that folks don’t recognize that Donaldson is one of the premier players in baseball, but at the same time, it’s easy to overlook just how good he’s actually be in the last couple of years. The lull and lack of news in January gives us a chance to explore just that.
The following represents where Josh Donaldson performed in a number of categories across the last three seasons, with each featuring his rank among Major League third basemen, as well as the number of qualifying players at the position:
|2014||.255 (19th)||.342 (7th)||.798 (4th)||.278 (22nd)||18.7 (12th)||10.9 (3rd)||.201 (1st)||130 (3rd)||24|
|2015||.297 (2nd)||.371 (2nd)||.939 (1st)||.314 (8th)||18.7 (9th)||10.3 (3rd)||.271 (2nd)||154 (1st)||21|
|2016||.284 (11th)||.404 (1st)||.953 (1st)||.300 (15th)||17.0 (15th)||15.6 (1st)||.265 (2nd)||155 (1st)||24|
The 2014 season was Donaldson’s final year with Oakland and the second year of his breakout. The average numbers have fluctuated some, and the batting average on balls in play has led to a bit of bad luck, but a lot of what is presented here is frighteningly consistent. By park-adjusted offense alone, he’s been the best offensive third baseman in each of the last two years. That isolated power helps to indicate his ability to hit for extra bases. Only Nolan Arenado has posted a higher figure in each of the last two years.
The combination of on-base skills and power is just a delightful pairing. Say what you want about the strikeout numbers, while his strikeout rates have been kind of middle-of-the-pack, his approach is just as undeniable as his glaringly obvious power. Any way you slice it, OBP, OPS, ISO, wRC+, everything comes up Donaldson. And if it doesn’t, he’s not far behind.
Just for fun, here are a couple of other elements to illustrate where Donaldson stacks up against his third base counterparts:
|2014||43.0 (16th)||76.6 (21st)||10.0 (7th)||15.6 (11th)||34.7 (7th)||24|
|2015||45.7 (15th)||76.0 (18th)||11.0 (5th)||14.4 (17th)||37.3 (3rd)||21|
|2016||42.0 (22nd)||76.7 (18th)||9.7 (14th)||16.4 (16th)||40.4 (2nd)||24|
He’s never been a tremendously high contact guy, but does that really matter? When you consider his ability to work the count and make hard contact at a consistent rate, it far outweighs anything that could be considered a shortcoming on the contact side. The fact that his strikeout rate and whiff rate each saw a decline toward the middle of the pack in 2016 could be an indicator that he could somehow be even more dangerous of an offensive player moving forward, especially if it can lead to even a slight increase in his contact rate.
One particularly interesting element transpires when his Hard% is combined with his ability to make linedrive and flyball contact. The assumption is that hard contact + flyballs = home runs. Donaldson certainly lends credence to that particular theory. The 2015 and 2016 seasons saw FB% figures of 37.9 and 40.6, respectively. With the combination of hitting the ball in the air and hard contact, Donaldson had gone for HR/FB ratios of 21.8% and 19.8% in each of those two seasons. That put him no. 1 in 2015 and no. 2 in 2016. Surprising? Not particularly, but that doesn’t make it any less of an indicator of just how explosive an offensive player he is.
We’ll toss in one more visual indicator of that offensive dominance:
We’ve seen Donaldson rise to prominence with the power bat over the last several seasons, really starting with 2013. But what that visual helps to drive home is just how far he’s set himself apart from the rest of Major League Baseball in the power game. It was a top eight ISO in 2015 and a top ten figure in 2016. But the difference between that level of power and the MLB average is…significant.
On the fantasy side, Donaldson represents everything you could possibly want. The high on-base. The absurd power. It’s not as if any of these things were a mystery or in any sort of question. Donaldson is a top three third baseman in any ranking that you’ll find anywhere on the internet. But putting it into perspective with the above visuals and graphics provides a real indicator of just how good he actually is. Toss in an extra bit of baserunning value with a few swipes over the course of the year and you have a player who is as intriguing as any in all of baseball.
Maybe next week we’ll look at something less obvious and a little more profound.