The Blue Jays have reportedly acquired the services of Josh Donaldson, a transaction that has him atop most third base ranks this preseason (if he wasn’t already). The rationale here is solid: he’ll turn 29 in December, came through the minor leagues as a power prospect, and hit 29 bombs last season in a pitcher’s park in a lineup that provided little protection during the second half of the season. A move from the 24th rated hitter’s park to the eighth should allow his power to sustain, and hitting around Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion certainly cannot hurt. The impact of playing 81 games in Toronto cannot be overstated, and the fact that 72.2 percent of his games will come in Top 10 hitter’s parks (up from 16.8 percent a season ago) is going to make him a trendy pick to potentially lead the league (and definitely his position) in round-trippers.
But let’s not make Donaldson the Fantasy MVP just yet. I was down on his prospects of repeating this season prior to this move, and while I’ll admit that heading north of the boarder helps his Fantasy value, I’m still not ready to declare him the king of the hot corner or a must-have cornerstone. Listen, I understand that the power upside is there and the downside has been elevated as a result of this trade, but is he a premier hitter? He has hit a lot of ground balls over the past two years (60 more ground balls than fly balls), and while that may be in part due to his surroundings, there is no denying that his approach has something to do with that (for those not aware, ground balls rarely lead to home runs). Speaking of his approach, let’s not immediately assume that he can produce at the level of an Encarnacion or Bautista simply because he is a power hitter on the Blue Jays. Last season, Donaldson crushed fast balls and curve balls, but he recorded a Pitch Value of 0.0 or less on four other pitches (slider, cutter, split-finger fast ball, and knuckle ball). To put some perspective on that, Toronto’s power duo has combined for three such scores over the last two seasons. Furthermore, Donaldson recorded a career-high in Z-Contact% (the percentage of pitches within the strike zone that he swung at and made contact with) last season, yet his 2014 mark (84.6 percent) is lower than the career averages of both E-squared and Joey Bats. One final nugget: Donaldson’s lowest SwStr% of his young career (9.0) is 8.4 percent higher than Encarnacion’s worst Toronto season and 16.9 percent higher than Bautista’s worst Toronto season.
I’m not suggesting that Donaldson can’t have a big year, but I would hesitate to take it to the bank. Adrian Beltre, for me, is still the class of the position and Anthony Rendon is still a player who, in my opinion, has shown more signs of immediate superstardom than the newest Jays’ slugger. Hitting in front of, in-between, or behind Encarncaion and Bautista (assuming health) is a nice spot to be when it comes to Fantasy production, but could it also be a bit of a curse? In all likelihood, that’ll be a stretch of three consecutive right-handed power hitters that struggle a bit to produce versus right-handed pitching, a lineup construction that is begging for a power-reliever in the final third of the game. This wouldn’t concern me if Donaldson’s splits weren’t so skewed, but with numbers against LHP last season that rivaled the 73 home run version of Barry Bonds and numbers against RHP that reflect the 2014 version of Marlon Byrd (Donaldson slashed .248/.329/.398 while the 37-year-old Philadelphia platoon outfielder slashed .266/.317/.435), there at least has to be some concern there.
I’ll back a bit off of my regression talk, but I don’t think we see statistical growth from Donaldson in Toronto. Pencil him in for similar numbers as last year (90-30-100-.255), a solid campaign, but one that should be targeted in the late second-early third round and not any higher (he finished as the 31st / 45th best overall player and 23rd / 34th best overall hitter in Yahoo/ESPN leagues respectively).