Jays From the Couch takes a deep look at the turnaround Josh Donaldson has seen and how its helped the Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays find themselves hanging on ever so tightly to the hope of making the playoffs this season. Fangraphs has them with a 2.3% chance at the time of writing. Considering the way things have gone, this team is lucky to have any kind of chance at this late a stage in the season. Where once we would have laughed at “playoffs” and Blue Jays in the same sentence in 2017, it isn’t so funny now. We have Josh Donaldson to thank for that.
Back in the middle of July, I wrote (at Blue Jays From Away) that Toronto’s second half fortunes would be dictated by The Bringer of Rain. I wanted to circle back on this idea since Donaldson’s awesomeness has come screaming back and found that, recently, Andrew Stoeten wrote that my previous point is actually proving to be true; that Donaldson is turning this season around for the Blue Jays. One need only to have watched the games to see evidence of that. Stoeten highlights the change in performance since July 23. Who am I to mess with arbitrary starting points? Instead, I (humbly) would like to build off his piece and look into the turnaround in a bit more detail; to see what’s behind the resurgence.
In order to do this, I wanted to look at pre and post July 23. Again, I’m not going to argue Stoeten’s arbitrary start point. Obviously, health would have played a major role in whatever numbers or metrics we look at. It would be virtually impossible to measure the extent to which calf issues, etc impacted the performance of any athlete. There is no number we can add or subtract to come to an injury related metric. But, the exercise of comparing either side of July 23 is still interesting.
Using Fangraphs, I split up his season numbers according to the July 23 date. From April 1 through July 22, Donaldson had 9 HR and 10 doubles. In 237 plate appearances, he had 47 hits with a line of .236/.356/.422 with 22 runs and 29 RBI. While he wasn’t putting up numbers like we’ve been used to, he was still getting on base – and was getting on his teammates for not doing the same. While he was grinding out the first half of the season, it seemed pretty clear he was dealing nagging injuries that were hampering his bat, and his glove, to a certain extent.
Since then, Donaldson has 28 hits in 108 plate appearances. His 11 home runs, 19 runs and 23 RBI have led to a .346/.481/.815 line. As Stoeten pointed out, he’s put up a 231 wRC+. His ISO is up to .469, but that isn’t the most impressive part. Since July 23, Donaldson’s K rate has dropped. While it was at nearly 25% previously, it has come down to 17.3%. His walk rate has climbed from 15.3% to 19.2%. There is also an element of better “luck” since his BABIP has gone from .288 to .321.
Digging a little deeper, I went to Brooks Baseball and took a look at how he fared against different pitches. I counted those he’d seen 100+ times:
Before this recent stretch, Donaldson had been missing on sliders with a .122 batting average and 17 Ks. Of all the offerings he’d seen, the slider seemed to have been giving him the most trouble, resulting in the least amount of power from his bat. It is interesting to note that his eye at the plate hadn’t really changed, since he had 10 walks. The problem was that he couldn’t really hit it.
Since the turnaround started, things have been much different. He is hitting .353 on the slider resulting in two of his eleven home runs and an ISO of .412. In fact, his numbers have improved on the change up and the fourseam.
On the left, we see the percentage of hard, breaking and offspeed stuff (and location) that pitchers were using against Donaldson before July 23. On the right, we have what he’s seen since. He saw an increase of hard stuff around the middle of May, which dropped off over the next month. In August, we are seeing a drop in the usage of the breaking stuff in favor of the fastball/ change combo, which happens to coincide his recent success. When a player is in a groove, messing with his timing is as good an idea as any.
As predicted by me, and shown by Stoeten, Josh Donaldson is back! The King of the Jungle, the Bringer of Rain, The Carrier of Teams is living up to his name. And, not only is it making baseball much more fun to watch, it is adding a lot more intrigue to the Blue Jays’ remaining 40 games. Whether it is due to a return to full health, increased success against the slider, or something as silly as removing the face flap of his helmet, we get to sit back and end the season with one of the best players in baseball playing like we’re used to seeing.
The 2015 MVP is turning his season around. This has helped position the Blue Jays to continue their faint shot at the postseason. Josh Donaldson is indeed the Bringer of Turnarounds.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.