The third base position is highly discussed, and all the talk may not be for good. Most discuss the lack of depth at the position, resulting in the need to potentially use an early draft pick on Jose Ramirez, Rafael Devers, and Manny Machado. I will agree that it may be a top-heavy position, but there are some interesting options farther down the draft board.
Insert Josh Donaldson. The 36-year-old Donaldson will be entering his 12th season in the bigs and will look to build off an interesting 2021 campaign. Last season he played in 135 games, racking up 543 plate appearances that resulted in a .247 average, 26 home runs, 73 runs scored, and 72 RBI.
It was another solid season for Donaldson. 2021 was the 7th season out of the last eight, where he hit at least 24 home runs. It was the 6th season of the last eight where he played in at least 135 games and had 543 plate appearances. So the constant injury talk and playing time issues do not jive with what Donaldson has been able to do year after year.
Donaldson’s Statcast metrics also paint a story of solid production.
|Avg EV||94.1 mph||4th in MLB|
|Max EV||114.7 mph||2nd best career|
|Barrel/PA||11.20%||3rd in MLB|
|Hard-hit||52.70%||2nd best career|
As anyone can see, he was crushing the baseball. He was at the high-end of most key power stats, ranking 93% or higher across all baseball in each category.
It was a good season for Donaldson, but some stats were not as strong as usual. Especially for someone that hits the ball so hard and hard so consistently. So what gives? Why only a .247 average and 26 home runs last season? Let’s dig into what may have gone wrong for Donaldson and why he is an excellent value in this early draft season.
The BABIP Conundrum
BABIP is not the end all be all as some can have high and low BABIP’s while still being successful. But it can be used as a solid stat to showcase a potential outlier for a positive or a negative situation. Donaldson’s 2021 BABIP of .268 was quite a career outlier, especially with the league average BABIP being .292. Over his career, he usually had a BABIP of .280-.300, most of the time .290-.300. A BABIP like that with his power results in a much better average and counting stats.
The .268 BABIP played a factor in his .247 average, which was lower than Donaldson’s expectations. A .247 average that his .268 xBA suggests should be a bit better.
Another reason why the BABIP was so confusing was Donaldson’s ability to create hard contact, even on balls on the ground. Some heavy ground ball hitters may have a low BABIP, but not someone that hits the ball as consistently hard as Donaldson. A 43% ground ball rate is not great for a power bat, but when your average exit velocity on ground balls is 90.4 mph, you should still be getting more hits. Donaldson’s 90.4 mph average EV on ground balls ranked 7th for players seeing at least 2000 pitches (a regular). He was behind players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Yuli Gurriel, Manny Machado, and Nelson Cruz.
I think it’s safe to say an increase in BABIP, leading to a rise in batting average, is definitely in line for the 2022 season.
When most look to draft Donaldson, they look for that late draft 30+ home run upside. Last season Donaldson only hit 26 home runs, which is still good, but not the usual. He had hit 33 or more home runs in four of the previous five full MLB seasons. So, what happened to the power? Nothing!!!!
Donaldson’s power is just fine. Last season he had a fly ball rate of 39.9%, his fourth-highest since 2014 and his highest since 2017. Donaldson also had an average exit velocity on fly balls of 97.1 mph which is one of his better outputs in recent years.
He has always been a higher groundball than fly ball-bat, but he usually has a good HR/FB. In 2021, his HR/FB was only 18.6% compared to his usual 20%+. His pull percentages and hard-hit rates do not show an issue with what you would want for a home run hitter, maybe just bad luck. His hard-hit rate was crazy at 52.7%, which was his third straight season over 50%. He also had a barrel rate of over 17.4% and a barrel/PA of 11.2%, the third-best in baseball.
Donaldson’s flyball rates were his norm. His hard-hit rates and barrel rates were through the roof. He just did not get those home run bounces that we are used to with Donaldson. I expect that to rebound excellently in 2022, so do not panic.
The moral of the story with Donaldson is do not panic and enjoy the gift of his ADP of 223.71, the 20th third baseman off the board. Donaldson is projected to hit fourth in the Twins order while seeing time at third base and DH. There should be plenty of playing time for the veteran. Donaldson is an outstanding later-round target at a shallow position like third base. Do not panic if debating a pick on Donaldson and just lock in 30+ home runs and much fantasy goodness as he contributes in four ROTO categories after pick 200.