The A’s have won the last two AL West Championships mainly due to their pitching, but also with timely hitting. Of course some power numbers on the offensive side have been a nice boost as well. One of the players who has provided those numbers over the last two seasons has been breakout third baseman Josh Donaldson. Donaldson was arguably the team MVP last season after putting up huge numbers and providing steady defense over at the hot corner. I consider Donaldson a breakout star due to the fact that he put his numbers over a season and a half. He has not fully established himself yet regardless of what some fans would like to think. As with all breakout players there comes a point where there is some regression. Will Donaldson suffer a set back this season?
Almost all A’s fans know the story of Donaldson’s switch from catcher to third base. The catching position was crowded in Oakland when he was at Triple-A Sacramento in 2012 and the organization decided to switch him to get his bat into the lineup. It paid off has Donaldson’s glove slowly developed while his bat stayed hot. He had a few chances in the big leagues already while playing catcher, but he never quite caught on. When Donaldson was called up in mid 2012 he finally found his footing, and under the tutelage of Brandon Inge his glove developed into Gold Glove caliber. His offense was outstanding as well finishing the season with a triple slash line of .241/.298/.398. That doesn’t sound like a good season, but after starting the season below a .200 AVG to bring your average up 41 points in less than 81 games is remarkable.
Last season was the year that people not only around the AL West but also around all of MLB really began to know who Josh Donaldson was. To go along with Gold Glove caliber defense Donaldson slashed an astonishing .301/.384/.499 with 24 HR and 93 RBI. The most eye-popping statistic of Donaldson’s actually is his contract. He is pre-arbitration eligible meaning he made only $492,500 (in MLB terms very little. Outside of a handful of players Donaldson provided the most value in terms of contracts in MLB.
As I mentioned above there is almost always a regression of some sort in breakout players. That does not mean they are flukes, but it does mean they will have to make adjustments if they want to continue to succeed. One noticeable mark of that came in the middle of last season. Donaldson was seeing a high number of first pitch strikes and he began attacking early on in the count. When pitchers adjusted and threw either breaking balls or balls entirely Donaldson didn’t adjust quickly enough and began to slump. Obviously he fought his way out of the slump, but it will be interesting to see how pitchers work Donaldson early in the count next season.
Another warning sign for a Donaldson regression was BABIP. BABIP stands for batting average of balls in play. In simple terms it’s a player’s batting average without home runs and other various factors. It is not a perfect statistic, no statistic is, but it is a better sample of a player’s hitting prowess. The higher the BABIP the luckier a player was in a season. Vice versa if a player’s BABIP was lower he was unlucky. The league BABIP last season was around .300. This means Donaldson was 33 points higher and may suffer a small drawback in his production.
Josh Donaldson is surrounded by a solid offense this season and if he does goes through a regression it won’t be as hindering as it would have been had it happened last season. Who knows? Maybe Donaldson won’t even regress. He might even improve. However, the likelihood of him regressing is higher than that of him improving. He is a great player and will continue to be one for a very long time in this league. Be forewarned however that a setback is coming. Whether it hinders him or he makes the necessary adjustments is yet to be seen.