Thursday, May 28, 2015

Donaldson Dialed In

Donaldson has as many big flies as Giancarlo Stanton (Fox Sports)
Much of the early season baseball coverage, including my own, has paid notice to streaking sluggers Bryce Harper and Nelson Cruz, allowing an equally torrid hitter to fly under the radar north of the border.

When Josh Donaldson stepped up to bat in the bottom of the ninth of yesterday afternoon's White Sox-Blue Jays game, Toronto's chances of winning stood at a mere 11 percent. The Bluebirds were down 3-2 with one out and nobody on against David Robertson, who held a sub-one ERA just a couple days ago and has been one of the best relievers of the decade.

For the third time this year, however, Robertson blew a save opportunity. After falling behind in the count, he left his 2-0 offering up and out over the plate. Donaldson didn't miss it, crushing the mistake into the second deck of the left field bleachers to tie the game. The White Sox would rally to win the game in 10 innings and salvage the series finale, largely because Donaldson did not receive another at-bat.

If he had, he might have well gone deep again. The long ball was Donaldson's 13th of the season, eighth of the month, and fourth in the past three days. Saying he's on fire right now might be the world's greatest understatement, as he's batting a blistering .309/.378/.629 in May and .314/.374/.590 on the year while coming up with these kinds of heroics on a regular basis. It's scary to think where Toronto--currently five games under .500 in a mediocre AL East--would be without him.

When Donaldson was traded from the Oakland Athletics to the Toronto Blue Jays last November, it was understood that his numbers would likely receive a boost from leaving behind a pitcher's paradise in Oakland and moving to a more hitting-friendly venue. I don't think anyone could have guessed just how much he'd enjoy hitting in the Rogers Centre, which plays well for sluggers like him and is much kinder to batters than the cavernous Coliseum.

Sure enough, Donaldson has flourished in his new digs. In 26 games at home, Donaldson has 10 doubles, 10 home runs, and a 1.156 OPS. In 23 games everywhere else, he has just three doubles, three home runs, and a .731 OPS. That's about as extreme as home/road splits can  be, with the vastly dissimilar results reflecting Donaldson's differing approaches. He has been much more aggressive at home, posting a meager 3.6 percent walk rate there compared to a 13.9 percent walk rate on the road. Normally a patient hitter, Donaldson is walking less this year while putting up career-best numbers across the board.

It will be interesting to see if Donaldson maintains his more aggressive approach throughout the season. His swing rate is up and his contact rate is down, which should be yielding worse results. Perhaps those figures will normalize over the course of the year, which we're still not even a third of the way through yet. I also find it interesting that decreased patience has aided Donaldson given that Bryce Harper, one of the few hitters more productive than him, has enjoyed much better results by greatly improving his selectivity. That's probably a function of their different positions on the aging curve, as young hitters like Harper benefit from increased patience whereas older hitters like Donaldson ward off age by hacking more to counteract declining bat speed.

As hot as Donaldson is right now, don't expect much fireworks from him over the next week: Toronto's traveling to Minnesota today.

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