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  • The Twins Need Josh Donaldson


    Cody Pirkl

    The Twins are attempting to return to contention in historic fashion after a terrible start to the season. While their recent hot stretch has been propelled by recently struggling players such as Sano, Kepler and Polanco, one of their cornerstones hasn’t been as advertised.

    Image courtesy of © David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

    After inking Josh Donaldson to a 4 year $92 million contract, the Twins were surely disappointed in him missing 32 games of the 60 game season in 2020, not to mention the playoffs. Confidence crumbled even further when in the first at bat of his 2021 season, Donaldson laced a pitch into the gap only to pull up with a hamstring injury which led to an IL stint. After Donaldson slashed .222/.373/.469 (good for 29% above league average) in his shortened 2020, it appeared all the Twins could do was hope for good health.

    Since coming off the IL on April 14, Donaldson has had his longest stretch on the field in a Twins uniform. The Twins plans to rest him regularly essentially went out the window as the team struggled to pick up wins. To Donaldson’s credit, he’s avoided another IL trip despite the Twins aggressiveness in keeping him on the field. The Twins have largely gotten what they wanted from their largest free agent signing in franchise history, at least in terms of good health.

    At the time of writing this, new concerns over the remaining two and a half years left on Donaldson’s contract have exposed themselves. Donaldson has been far from bad at the plate, but it’s worth noting that this slash line of .236/.338/.415 is far from an MVP candidate. His being 10% above league average by wRC+ is buoyed by the fact that offense league wide was significantly suppressed for the first month of the season.

    Batting average is far from Donaldson’s game, but his .222 in 2020 and current .236 mark are both the lowest of his career going back to his rookie season in 2010. His current .338 OBP is his worst since 2014. His slugging % is his lowest since 2012.

    In addition to a down offensive year, Donaldson appears to have stepped back significantly on defense. The former Gold Glove caliber third baseman has been worth -3 Defensive Runs Saved, a mark that already matches Donaldson’s career worst. He also falls in the 36th percentile in Outs Above Average on defense. Defensive metrics are a finicky measurement but paired with the eye test, Donaldson appears to have made some major declines in the hot corner.

    Donaldson hasn’t been the caliber of player the Twins have needed in his age 35 season so far. With two and a half years left under contract, it’s not irrational to wonder if the injuries are finally catching up. That being said, it’s fair to point out that a lot of indicators are still favorable.
    1104761597_DonaldsonSavant.PNG.72a4fc3e38ea8434e54491264725d4fb.PNG
    It’s entirely possible and even likely that Donaldson has gotten unlucky so far. That’s a lot of red to still be putting up at 35 years old. That being said, the Twins are relying on luck or whatever else is going on straightening itself out if they have plans for a shocking resurgence. Can Donaldson return to being the game changing player he was signed to be two winters ago?

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    Ugggh. This is not the article I wanted to read. My quick 2 cents...Love Donaldson's arm. I never hold my breath on a throw that might be tight, but he's made a couple throws that were 'easy' that cost the team. He was meh overall last year for his value and so far has been meh this year. I know he has a negative xBA, but he just doesn't seem to make consistent solid contact (new band name). I hope he comes through and this is the year we're paying him for. The next two may be sunken cost if the current performance continues. Come on Josh, let's not make this a sucky contract

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    Perhaps the biggest question, who has the bigger anchor on their back?  The Twins with Donaldson or the Wild with Parise?

    Doubt many of us were disappointed when the Twins signed him, although I expect many of us were concerned about the length of his contract given his age/injury history.  If the Twins had an adequate third base prospect to fill in at third, could they find a trade partner this summer and move Donaldson?  May require them to be creative and/or eat some of the dollars.  I guess a lot will depend on how Donaldson hits the next 45 days, does he remain on the field and are the Twins out of the hunt and in seller's mode.  If so, imagine they could move Sano back to third with Kirilloff their permanent first baseman.

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    Looking into Donaldson's offensive numbers a little deeper does provide some reason for optimism. His BABIP this season is just .240, well below his career average of .296. Also, his batted ball profile this season is very much in line with his career numbers (18%/45%/37% GB/LD/FB in 2021 vs. 18%/43%/39% career), and his HR/FB rate (12.8%) is well below his career rate (19.0%). Given that his exit velocity is still in the top 10% of the league, it's very reasonable to expect his batted balls to begin turning into hits at a higher clip and more of his fly balls to turn into HRs going forward.

    His defense seems like a different story, unfortunately... He is much slower now than at any point in his career, and he's likely only going to get slower. A good arm and good instincts can make up for some of that, but I'm afraid his time being considered as one of the top defensive 3Bs in the league is likely over.

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    Here’s a problem I have with BABIP — BABIP doesn’t account for quality of contact on a ball in play. A .300 BABIP is considered to be league average. However, if the quality of contact is weak 80-90% of the time, you are not going to have a .300 BABIP. You can’t expect to have a .300 BABIP if you can’t actually hit the ball hard.

    Since 2015, I have organized the league average BABIP on the six levels of quality of contact (according to baseball savant):

    Poorly (Combines Topped/Under/Weak) - .132
    Flare/Burner - .655
    Solid Contact - .424
    Barrel - .518

    How well you hit the ball will clearly make a difference. 

    Donaldson’s BABIP in 2021 is .240, which is well below league average. If you take number of BIP with the weight above:

    67 Poorly
    19 Flare/Burner
    3 Solid Contact
    16 Barrel

    (67*.132 + 19*.655 + 3*.424 + 16*.518)/(67 + 19 + 3 + 16) = .571. 

    There is no way a .571 BABIP is sustainable, but I do think that his BABIP is low based on how he has been hitting the ball.

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    IL placements are up 30% compared to this point of 2019 excluding covid IL trips according to Baseball Prospectus.  

    Ken Rosenthal compared the first month of 2021 to the first month of 2019 a few weeks ago and found that there were almost twice as many soft tissue injuries like hamstring, quad, oblique injuries than the first month of 2019.  Arm and elbow injuries were up 19%.  Rosenthal has the IL placements for the first month of 2021 being 19% higher than the first month of 2019 so the Baseball Prospectus data would indicate injuries are happening more often as the season goes on.

    I guess the good news could be that maybe this isn't typical Josh Donaldson (or Buxton) is always injured and more of a everyone is struggling to stay healthy after the crazy year. 

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    I must admit, I've been very disappointed in Donaldson.  He's been nowhere near what we all expected or hoped for.  Last night against the Royals he had several opportunities to come up with a big hit, and came up empty each time.  As it looks more and more likely the Twins will finish this year in jarringly disappointing fashion, I'm wondering what the "re-tool" is going to look like.  If Donaldson is even "average" coming up to the deadline, I'd look to move him for very little return to a contender (would the Mets want him?) just to clear that salary to be used for other areas needing improvement.  Donaldson, Sano, Polanco, Simmons, Kepler, Pineda, all should be involved in discussions for prospects.  Maybe take a hard look at the FA shortstop market next year.  A team built to defend their 2-year run as division champs shouldn't be crashing and burning with the "complete system failure" that we've seen.  Kiriloff is up.  Larnach is up.  The arms like Duran, Balazovic, Canterino and Jax shouldn't be too far away (although Balazovic needs to get healthy).  But a lot of the "dead weight" on this roster needs to be sent packing.

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    In 2018-19 Donaldson had an OPS+ Of 123 playing 64% of the games. In 2020-2021 he has an OPS+ of 117 playing in 60% of games through Friday. It seems like the kind of decline you might expect from age 32 to 35. There will likely be more decline in the next two years. In free agency you buy the decline, Sometimes you pay big for it. Occasionally you get a Cruz who defies it.

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    Sure we need him to step up - but we really have no one in the minors ready to push him at all for playing time.  We spent the money, and he needs to perform - simple as that.  Otherwise if we decide to be sellers, he should be someone we at least put on the block as an option to move on from pending we get a young 3B ready in a year in return.

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    On 5/28/2021 at 1:47 PM, cHawk said:

    Here’s a problem I have with BABIP — BABIP doesn’t account for quality of contact on a ball in play. A .300 BABIP is considered to be league average. However, if the quality of contact is weak 80-90% of the time, you are not going to have a .300 BABIP. You can’t expect to have a .300 BABIP if you can’t actually hit the ball hard.

    Since 2015, I have organized the league average BABIP on the six levels of quality of contact (according to baseball savant):

    Poorly (Combines Topped/Under/Weak) - .132
    Flare/Burner - .655
    Solid Contact - .424
    Barrel - .518

    How well you hit the ball will clearly make a difference. 

    Donaldson’s BABIP in 2021 is .240, which is well below league average. If you take number of BIP with the weight above:

    67 Poorly
    19 Flare/Burner
    3 Solid Contact
    16 Barrel

    (67*.132 + 19*.655 + 3*.424 + 16*.518)/(67 + 19 + 3 + 16) = .571. 

    There is no way a .571 BABIP is sustainable, but I do think that his BABIP is low based on how he has been hitting the ball.

    What worries me about Donaldson is he flinches at every breaking ball - he seems to be scared of it hitting him or isn't picking it up. He either swings and misses badly or pops it up, right?

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