The fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays are directly linked to the performance of Josh Donaldson, highlighting just how valuable a player he is
The Toronto Blue Jays have the reigning American League MVP. When you stop to think on that for a minute, it is rather wondrous, really. Some of us had no idea what the club was getting when they pried Josh Donaldson away from the Oakland Athletics. We’d heard of him, we could look up his numbers, but until he played the 2015 season, we couldn’t truly appreciate that he was a Blue Jay. And, he played, alright, all the way to the MVP award, while leading the Blue Jays to their first playoff appearance in 22 years.
When 2016 rolled around, the lineup boasted so many All Stars that it was easy to forget just how important Donaldson is to the club. But, recent events have served as a stark reminder of just how valuable he is
For the first 5 months of the season, we’d watched The Bringer of Rain put up similar numbers to his last season. In 2015, he had 41 HR, 122 runs, 123 RBI to go with a line of .297/.371/.568 on his way to putting up 8.7 WAR. It was no coincidence that his team won. His numbers this season were just as good. The home runs were there, the runs, everything. In fact, his quiet progress may have been better since he was walking more (currently) 15.7% than he did in 2015 (10.3%) and striking out less (18.7% last year to 16.5% this year). His OBP is at .406, which is a fairly significant jump. He’s hitting more line drives and fewer groundballs this year. You actually could easily make the argument that he’s having a better year.
It is why his name was included in the 2016 AL MVP conversation again this year heading into September. Last season, at that time, his only real competition was the perennially mentioned Mike Trout. But, a head to head series in Anaheim pretty much ended that debate. Donaldson came out on top there. This year, though, there are other players who are having rather successful years. Boston is being carried by Mookie Betts and his monster season. Early on Jose Altuve and his hand-eye coordination were stealing a lot of attention. Yet, Donaldson was hanging in there, putting up solid numbers while his team took over first place in the division.
Then something happened. Josh Donaldson hit a bit of a funk at the end of August. On the 28th, he had a hat trick of home runs that led you to believe that he was about to go off and seal the MVP deal. He would hit another the next day. But then things went dry. In fact, since August 29th, he’s not hit a single homer. Up until this Angels series began, he had but one extra base hit, a double on Sept 2nd. To make things worse, he’d gone 7 games without a hit. As well, he was noticeably…different in the field. Characteristically solid with the glove, he was dropping caught stealing attempts. He didn’t seem right.
Lo and behold, he’s been dealing with a hip issue that resulted in an MRI. Whether the truth is that his hip was “barking” is downplaying the issue, or the doctor saying that his hip is normal for a 30 yr old is more accurate, we’ll never really know the truth. Regardless what the real issue is with his hip, we could see the impact it was having, not just on him, but his team as well. If you look at the team’s performance in September, you see loss after loss pile up. On Sept 1, the Blue Jays had a 2 game lead on the Red Sox in the AL East. Since then, they’ve slipped to 2 games back, and a tie with the Orioles in the Wild Card. The playoff picture is looking less and less comfortable thanks to a 2 week period of scuffling.
There are many individual performances that go into a team winning or losing on any given night. But, over an extended period of time, the big players need to step up and be big players. Josh Donaldson has been hurting and his performance has suffered. It is no coincidence that his team has followed suit. With him not in the lineup (whether as himself, or actually missing from the lineup), the Blue Jays are not as good. It is that simple. It makes winning harder. Their recent woes are a testament to that.
When you look at the definition of Most Valuable Player, most think about where their team would be without them. If you follow the Toronto Blue Jays, you know that answer. A healthy, productive Josh Donaldson means winning. So, hopefully, he’s beginning to come around with his 4 hits (2 doubles) and 2 runs in his last 2 games. With a strong finish to the season, he could take hold of that MVP vote. But, more importantly, with a successful finish to the season, the Toronto Blue Jays will reverse their fortunes. This isn’t about an individual award, this is about winning.
As Josh Donaldson goes, so too do the Blue Jays.
*Featured Image Credit: Bliss Nogueira @blissnogueira blissphoto.ca
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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.