108: Lesson learned - don’t underestimate Donaldson

 The month of August has brought upon the return of former AL MVP Josh Donaldson. (Photo: Mark Blinch / Canadian Press)

The month of August has brought upon the return of former AL MVP Josh Donaldson. (Photo: Mark Blinch / Canadian Press)

By Tyler King

Canadian Baseball Network

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Well, it was fun while it lasted ...

After fighting to get within three games of a Wild Card spot, the Toronto Blue Jays were swept by the Chicago Cubs after what was probably the most demoralizing series (and game (and inning)) of the season.

However, despite this resurgent feeling of grief, it was just a mere month ago that there was hardly a whiff of optimism surrounding the Blue Jays’ chances, with depressing terms like “fire-sale” and “tanking” dominating the conversation.

Yet those doomsday talks had quieted significantly - and suddenly - after the Jays won 10 of their first 15 games in August, which just so happened to be about the same time Josh Donaldson decided to start playing like an MVP again.

(And after the three straight losses to the Cubs, the resurgence of Donaldson is about all there is to cheer about.)

Of course, everyone who has watched the Jays this year knows there haven’t been those most-valuable-player chants whenever Donaldson steps to the plate (unlike the past two seasons). But, thanks to his play of late, fans are now being reminded of what those happier days were like.

In the 63 games Donaldson played prior to the month of August this season, he was hitting an unimpressive (re: un-Josh-Donaldson) .243 / .364 / .442 with 11 home runs. Those numbers were why the Blue Jays “experts” could discuss trading the former MVP with relatively little backlash or protest from the fans who actually buy the tickets.

But, perhaps in foreshadow of Donaldson’s recent turn-around, on August 10th team president Mark Shapiro came out and said what most of the fanbase had always felt in their gut.

“It’s hard to imagine any scenario where we’re a better team without him,” Shapiro said of trading Donaldson during an interview on a Sportsnet 590 The Fan radio show.

“We want J.D. here.”

And after Donaldson’s first 17 games in August, everyone should now remember why.

This month, Donaldson had hit .351 (20-for-57) with nine homers and 21 RBI heading into Sunday. Only three players in the entire MLB have hit more home runs this month. Only one player has more RBI.

But you don’t need to look solely at the month of August to glimpse Donaldson’s greatness - you know, that MVP-calibre play Jays fans had been exposed to for nearly the entirety of both 2015 and 2016.

Prior to Sunday, Donaldson had appeared in 80 games in 2017 (he missed a chunk of the season due to injury). He has managed to hit .265 / .392 / .530 with 20 home runs and 52 RBI in his limited appearances. His OPS is still elite at .922, and he has a very impressive 57 walks.

Although not all of those numbers immediately scream “MVP”, if you average out his play this season over 162 games then it’s clear he should still be regarded as one of the game’s most feared hitters. 

(For those who think this 162-game average is a cheap tactic to inflate his numbers, remember Donaldson has basically played full seasons the last three years, appearing in 155 or more games each year).

Over a 162 game season, Donaldson would currently be on pace for 41 home runs, 106 RBI, and 116 walks (a career high).

(All those numbers are higher than his career 162 game averages).

Out of all American League players who have appeared in 80 or more games, only 12 others are on pace to hit 40 homers over a full season. Only eight have a better OPS, and only three have a higher OBP.

It’s also worth noting that only 34 AL players have 20 home runs this season - and that number itself is nothing to scoff at. But, even more impressively, the only player to hit 20 homers in fewer games than Donaldson is (the perennial MVP candidate and super-human) Mike Trout.

Then again, as a free agent in 2019, the much more pragmatic fan knows that Donaldson’s success is only driving up his price-point when it comes time for the Jays to resign him.

However, as his play of late has reminded everyone, there should be almost no price that isn’t worth considering. 

For in 2017 the Jays haven’t only been a better team with Donaldson ...

They likely would have been an irrelevant one without him.

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Follow Tyler and #Section108 on Twitter: @TylerJoseph108