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Josh Donaldson: How Good is He?

It is very unlikely that Josh Donaldson's April line of .314/.388/.490 is sustainable over his first full 162 game season in the majors. However, here he is in may hitting an even better .318/.395/.591 for the month, and .315/.391/.530 for the year. How long will this production last? No one knows, but it is probably safe to say that those hoping to see these numbers at the end of September should temper their expectations. That is not to imply that he is not going to remain a very valuable and productive player going forward. The value may just be visible in different facets of his game that I would now like to take a look at. So, let's start by referring to the basics.

Josh Donaldson hit for a .275 average over his 6-year minor league career.

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via i.imgur.com and www.baseball-reference.com

By just briefly looking at this table, you can see that he is not a very predictable player. For example, he hit marginally above the Mendoza line for half a year at the Chicago Cubs single-A affiliate, before being traded in a multi-player deal involving 5 other names that are no longer relevant. He then hit the cover off the ball for a bit and earned a spot in the AA team the next year. He hit solidly enough to join the AAA affiliate where he found his power stride, hitting 18 homers in under 300 at bats. Finally, after a couple of failed stints on the major league roster, he has shown enough ability at a triple-A level that he earned the starting role of third-baseman for 2013, (let's ignore the lack of another legitimate option at that position and give Josh some gosh darn credit). A couple of things to notice about his minor league career are that, despite some dips in average, he only once exceeded a strike out percentage of 20, and has, for the most part, managed to draw walks on about 10% of plate appearances. Finally, BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is often considered to be a "luck statistic", but it tells an interesting story with Josh Donaldson. Except when he was first promoted to AAA and was finding his feet, Josh has always had a solid BABIP in the .300-.350 range. This basically indicates that when he's seeing the ball and making contact, good things happen.

Anyway, enough back story, what can we expect going forward in terms of value. Regardless of how well he hits for the year in average and power, look for him to be there when the team needs him most. There is a lot of debate about whether or not there is such thing as a "clutch" player, but if there is, then Josh Donaldson is showing the early signs of being that type of player. His WPA (win probability added) already leads the league at a high 2.51. Considering that a season ending number of greater than 5 is more than impressive, this is a great start. His pLI (average leverage index) of .9 indicated that most of his Abs have come in average situations, but a few higher pressure scenarios may be forthcoming. When you divide WPA by pLI and then subtract the statistic (WPA/LI) which measures a players contributions regardless of a given scenario, the resulting number is the player's "clutch" statistic. Effectively, it is the players offensive contributions minus the contributions that come from low leverage situations. Josh Donaldson leads the league early on by a huge margin (1.42 vs. Chase Utley's .99). Although we hope to see more of the same in all facets of Donaldson's game, come September it will be nice to see if he can give that "clutch" statistic some merit.

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