Jays From the Couch compares third baseman in the AL East to see if the Toronto Blue Jays have the best in Josh Donaldson
If you ask fans of the Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson is the best third baseman in the American League, maybe even in baseball. That kind of favoritism sin’t limited to those in Blue Jays Land. If you ask the same question to fans in Baltimore, they would argue they have the best third baseman in Manny Machado. So, this exercise is to look at the numbers and compare third basemen in the AL East. We’ll stick to the AL East to keep things simple, and to add an element of fodder for steady trolling throughout the season, since AL East opponents (and their fans) will be more frequently in our timelines.
If you missed it, our Ryan Mueller already compared the Blue Jays bullpen and rotation to their AL East counterparts.
For this comparison, we’ll look at offensive numbers and then defensive metrics to make a final conclusion. All numbers taken from Fangraphs. This experiment assumes the starting 3B for each team, which could change, obviously. We assume that Chase Headley will start for the Yankees, Pablo Sandoval for the Red Sox, Manny Machado for the Orioles, Evan Longoria for the Rays and Josh Donaldson for the Blue Jays.
To compare offensive numbers, we will use the actual totals put up last season, rather than using projected numbers. In the case of Sandoval, we used his projected numbers since he didn’t see even 10 games last year.
Obviously, we could go into much more depth to look at the offensive numbers for each player. But, to keep things simple, we used basic numbers that would give us a general sense of the offensive value each brings to his team.
The battle to be the best offensive third baseman in the AL East is a tightly contested one. Machado is right on the tail of Donaldson in every category above. As much as Blue Jays fans might like to hate on Machado, his bat has proven to be almost as impactful as the Bringer of Rain’s. Perhaps, watching his success is part of the reason it is easy to hate Machado. That said, Donaldson is still ahead of the rest with his OPS, wRC+ and WAR.
It might surprise readers to see Evan Longoria holding his own in this race. One has to wonder if his skills would be better used on a team that had a supporting cast around him that could compete for the division title. A few years ago, the Rays did that and Longoria’s performance didn’t go unnoticed. But, now that the Rays are middling about, we forget just how good Longoria is. In the case of Pablo Sandoval, it will be interesting to see if a) he actually sticks as the everyday man for the job and b) he can actually live up to the projections for him.
To compare the defensive numbers, we will use the totals put up in 2016. In the case of Sandoval, we used his last full season (2015: 126 games).
Defensively speaking, Machado leads the pack. Having only committed a surprising 6 errors in 2016, his defensive metrics sure look good. Those 6 errors came in 186 plays made. For comparison, Donaldson made 14 errors in 174 plays. Having watched Donaldson for a couple of years now, we are aware that he tends to be aggressive and tries to make plays when there may not necessarily be one. That is not to say that Donaldson has poor decision making skills compared to Machado by any means. Instead, it just points out a possible explanation for having committed more errors.
For his part, Longoria is more than holding his own at the hot corner, despite seeing his UZR/150 decline steadily over the last few years. Again, it will be interesting to see if Sandoval can regain his shape enough to sufficiently handle third base duties. He is now almost 2 yrs removed from his poor showing in 2015, and his training program will have to have addressed his range, etc in order to show signs of improvement.
For fans of the Toronto Blue Jays, it is no surprise to see Josh Donaldson lead the pack with his bat. His elite plate performance is what puts him in the conversation as an MVP every year. His defense is not the best of the group, according to the above numbers, but he more than holds his own with his aggressive, all out style of play. Solid defense and an elite bat very well could mean that he is the best third baseman in the AL East. And, fans of the Blue Jays would support that.
Of course, fans of other teams just might feel the same way about their hometown hero. Think Orioles fans would consider listening about any other player? And, they just might have a case for their guy being the best. His defense certainly is top shelf. Fans of the Yankees and Red Sox might not have bragging rights in this conversation, though. And, fans of the Rays will hold on tightly to the love they have for their “Steady Eddy”, Evan Longoria.
While talking about “The Best” in any context is always a matter of subjective thinking, this exercise reveals a tight race for third basemen in the AL East. For fans of the Toronto Blue Jays, we’ll take the results of this exercise and puff our chests out a bit more because Josh Donaldson is a Blue Jay!
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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