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Ben Carsley got our Playoff Spotlight series kicked off on Tuesday with a breakdown of Eric Hosmer. At the time this is being written, Oakland is still in the playoffs. Of course, so is Kansas City, as the game hasn’t started, so players from both clubs are technically still fair game. I actually expect Oakland to win so they’d still be in the playoffs when this is posted, but you’ll forgive me if they aren’t, I hope. Let’s stay on the hitting side and take a look at Josh Donaldson from the A’s.

Player Background
A first-round pick back in 2007 (48th overall by CHC), Donaldson was a tertiary part of the Rich Harden deal in July of 2008. He started out behind the dish, but also saw time at the four corners (1B, 3B, LF, and RF) in the Oakland farm system. He spent two years in Kevin Goldstein’s second 10 for the Athletics prospects with power as the carrying tool, though it didn’t grade at a plus level.

In 2012, he accumulated nearly 300 PA, but it was a bit fractured as he wore out a path between Oakland and Triple-A Sacramento. He had just a .395 OPS in 100 PA from April through mid-June in 28 games. He was called back up on August 14th and stayed for the remainder of 2012 as he put together a .290/.356/.489 line in 194 PA with eight home runs (paced for 28 in a full season) and 26 RBI (a pace of 90).

Jason Collette took notice of Donaldson’s finish and began pumping him for 2013 (including a Tout Wars purchase). Donaldson rewarded Collette and everyone else who invested with a brilliant full season. He hit .301 with 24 homers and 93 RBI (eerily close to those paces from his final spurt in 2012). His .883 OPS and sparkling third base defense made him a down-ballot MVP candidate (he finished fourth). Sharp skills supported the breakout and while he jumped up to the fifth 3B off the board this past spring, there were still plenty of skeptics who didn’t see a repeat.

What Went Right in 2014
The bottom is line is that the 2014 season as a whole went right for Donaldson. For a second straight season he finished fifth among hot cornermen on ESPN’s Player Rater which matched his preseason value. In fact, he technically eclipsed his value as he finished 45th on the overall player rater after carrying the 56th spot overall in average draft position six months ago.

In terms of the raw numbers, he improved across the board while matching his 158 games played from 2013. He added five homers (to 29), five RBI (98), four runs (93), and three stolen bases (8). It was more than reasonable to build in some regression from his breakout year in 2013, yet he went out and bested it in four of the five major fantasy categories.

What Went Wrong in 2014
The fifth of those major categories went sideways thanks to some severe cold streaks. He hit just .255, well off of his .301 mark from a year ago. He reached a season peak* of .284 after a three-hit effort in New York on June 4th, but then went into a 34-game tailspin that saw him hit just .158 in 143 PA from June 5th through the All-Star break. He still salvaged a thread of value by popping four homers with 16 RBIs and a couple of steals (20 HR-77 RBI-10 SB paces in that span). He had an impossibly low .165 BABIP during the lull, fueled by an inability to drive the ball as he essentially delivered infield practice for the opposing team several times a night. His batted-ball profile went completely into the tank at this point:

GB

FB

LD

Thru 6/4

41%

39%

20%

6/5-ASB

57%

35%

8%

Since ASB

44%

35%

21%

I honestly would’ve thought he was a flyball/popup machine during the downturn, but he was simply rolling over on seemingly everything. He had 48 ground-ball outs in those 34 games compared to 54 in 66 games after the All-Star break.

There was a bit of misfortune in there, too. Even on the rare times he would drive the ball—and boy were they rare in June and early July—it was finding a glove. He grabbed just three hits on his nine line drives, good for a .333 AVG on liners which is light years from his .719 career AVG on line drives. Of course when you hit just nine line drives in 34 games, you’re kinda creating your own bad luck. For the record, he hit .600 on 41 line drives in the second half (still off his career mark, but far more reasonable).

What to Expect in 2015
I think we’ll essentially see more of the same stuff we’ve seen these last two years with the batting average likely landing somewhere in between the .301 and .255 totals. If you just smash 2013 and 2014 together, it’s at .277 which feels like an appropriate guess for 2015. Since his August 14th call-up in 2012, Donaldson has an .840 OPS in 1557 PA, putting him 22nd in the league among those with at least 1000 PA (162 players) and sixth among the 21 players with at least 1500 PA in that time.

I’m betting on 20-something homers, 90-something RBIs, and 90-something runs scored (the latter two assume the Oakland offense doesn’t bottom out). He’s actually a single run shy of joining Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera as the only guys with back-to-back 20-90-90 (or better) seasons in 2013-14.

I realize it’s not a particularly flimsy limb I’m stepping out on to essentially project status quo, but there’s no real need to veer from what we’ve seen out of Donaldson recently. At 29 years old, he remains in the thick of his prime and he’s carrying a firm skillset that is unlikely to produce any major gains or incur any severe regression.

The Great Beyond
That last part might be a surprise to some. Yes, he is 29, so as a late-bloomer we trade some of the upside we might have from a 25-26 year old breakout in exchange for a more stable profile once it blossoms. Donaldson has blossomed and we saw that stability with a near-repeat in 2014. I think the power is here to stay for another handful of years.

As I mentioned earlier, I see a spike in batting average for 2015, but then I’d expect it to slowly decline as he enters his thirties. Given the run environment we are in today, though, that’s hardly a huge worry. This year’s .258 AVG by the league’s third basemen was the third-lowest in the last decade with the second-lowest coming in 2013 (.256) and the lowest just two years before that (.254).

I’d even settle for a below-average AVG (something like a .240) as long as he continues to decimate the average OBP and SLG totals. Those were at .318 and .397 the last two years, while Donaldson turned in marks of .363 and .477, respectively.

Thank you for reading

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noone99
10/02
So is Seager not too far off from Donaldson then in OPS league?