Outside of Chris Davis and Manny Machado, there wasn’t another player more under the radar then Josh Donaldson. Actually, maybe including those two. At least with Davis and Machado you had players that were on many owners’ draft boards before the year began. Donaldson really wasn’t.
If you would have polled 100 fantasy league owners asking “who is Josh Donaldson?” You would have gotten a blank stare or at best “I think he plays for Oakland.” Regardless Josh Donaldson broke out in a major way in 2013.
Anytime a player records a WAR of 8.0 you sit up and take notice. This is the number Josh Donaldson put up, which put him in the same company as Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen both of whom are MVP candidates.
How did a converted catcher who never recorded a batting average higher than .270 in his professional career, manage a season where he was mentioned as one of the best hitters in the American League?
When you increase your walk rate and on-base-percentage good things will happen. It should be no surprise that Oakland general manger Billy Beane has a player with these key traits. You might have heard of a book and movie that talked about identifying players with these key statistics called “Moneyball”.
Josh Donaldson increased his walk rate to 11.4% in his first full major league season. In the minor leagues he averaged a walk rate
between 9 and 10%. The majority of the time a player will not increase their walk rate more than a 10% bump once they reach the big league level.
He has had strikeout rates in the past that were well above 20% in a season. This is consistent with hitters with power. If hitters became more selective and lowered their strikeout rate, they would see better pitches to hit and have the same amount of homeruns per at-bat if not more.
Josh Donaldson figured this out. His strikeout percentage was the lowest of his career with a minimum of 500 plate appearances at 16.4%. It’s not a coincidence he had a career high 24 homeruns by lowering his strikeout percentage while at the same time increasing his HR/FB rate.
Something that really stands out is which type of pitches he was being thrown. Pitchers weren’t having success letting him wait and feast on a fastball so they adjusted and started throwing him more sliders. The slider’s being thrown to him increased almost 5%. This is a very large change in how a hitter has to adjust.
He hits sliders very well with runs above average at 1.35. If this number is over 1 then a hitter becomes an above average hitter when they can make contact with this kind of pitch. This strategy giving him a slider that he hits very well was a losing battle for pitchers this past season.
Going forward I don’t see a large regression for 2014. Are his numbers sustainable going into next season? I believe they are based on his newfound approach at the plate. Patience and walks have nothing to do with luck and being involved in situations that are happenstance.
His 20+ homerun power is definitely legit and I see him hitting something close to that next season. His batting average should dip based on his BABIP of .333. That BABIP is a little on the lucky side and his average should hover around .275 to .280 next season. His RBI and run production will be maintained and you will see numbers ranging from 85 to 95 in each respective category.
He will be listed as a top 50 hitter in every major publication and website before next year’s draft. I would draft him and not have any doubts as to what kind of season he will produce for you. You will see a similar season with a lower batting average. He is reaching his peak as a player as he turns 28 year’s old in December. There is not a large amount of upside but there is a lot to like.