Josh Donaldson: American League MVP?

 Josh Donaldson has made friends and influenced people with his late-inning heroics for the Blue Jays. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press. 

Josh Donaldson has made friends and influenced people with his late-inning heroics for the Blue Jays. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press. 

By Tyler King
 

There are a lot of positive things you can say about Josh Donaldson. But Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summed it up best following Sunday’s heartbreaking loss to the Minnesota twins:

“Thank God we’ve got him.”

Right you are, Gibby. Right. you. are.

It’s hard to imagine that the Jays’ record (24-30 after Tuesday’s double-header) could possibly be as bad as it is. But what is even harder to imagine is what that record would be without Donaldson. It’s downright depressing to even think about.

He’s basically the only thing keeping this team from utter irrelevance.

(Bless you, Alex Anthopoulos! Honestly, how did you pull that one off?)

There is no arguing that Donaldson has been the Blue Jays Most Valuable Player thus far. But where does he stack up with the best of the best in the American League?

If you’ve watched any Jays games on TV this past week, you’ll know exactly how play-by-play men Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler feel about him - he’s right near the top.

I personally believe that the letters M, V, and P get thrown around far too often in this day and age.

Being named the best player in the best league should not be taken lightly. And it seems that anytime a player hits above .300 nowadays, you begin to hear rumblings of those three precious syllables.

It certainly doesn’t help that there is no clear definition of what an MVP actually looks like. It’s up to the members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to decide.

So at the risk of sounding patronizing, what makes a player most valuable?

Should it be the person who provides the biggest impact to his team? The best overall production? Does the team’s record factor in? How important is defense? What about character and leadership qualities?

The simple answer is, “who knows?” 

That’s why to determine if Donaldson is actually having an MVP start to his season I’m going back and comparing his numbers to other recent American League Most Valuable Players.

You be the judge.

(Interestingly, four of the last 10 winners have been third baseman - a good start).

The last five fielders to win the AL MVP were Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera (twice), Josh Hamilton, and Joe Mauer.

If you take an aggregate of their individual stats from their award winning seasons, here are what some MVP numbers look like:

Batting Average: .338
On Base Percentage: .413
Home Runs: 37
RBI: 117
Runs Scored: 103

In comparison, here are Donaldson’s numbers after 52 games (including projected numbers):

Batting Average: .312
On Base Percentage .372
Home Runs: 15 (on pace for 47)
RBI: 39 (on pace for 122)
Runs Scores: 43 (on pace for 134)

Of course, this doesn’t provide nearly the whole picture. However it’s a good place to start and I don’t want to spend hours going over modern, voodoo sabermetrics like Wins Above Replacement (WAR). 

(But for the record, Donaldson has been always been a beast in the WAR category - he’s currently third in the AL).

Looking at the traditional numbers above, Donaldson is making a mockery of those MVP home run and runs scored totals. 

Yes, his AVG and OBP may be well below the mark, but that isn’t entirely unprecedented. 

Mike Trout unanimously won the 2014 MVP title despite hitting .287 (over 50 points lower than the league high set by Jose Altuve). But Trout did lead the AL in RBIs and runs scored...

...Which happens to be exactly what Donaldson is doing.

His relatively low on base percentage simply stems from not walking much. At .372 his OBP is actually lower than Jose Bautista’s (.380), despite Bautista hitting a pedestrian .242.

You can’t really blame Donaldson for swinging at everything. How could you? He’s currently PUNISHING whatever pitchers throw at him, including the high heater - traditionally a put-away pitch against big sluggers.

He hit six home runs last week alone, earning him AL player of the week honors. He’s also second among AL third baseman in All-Star game fan voting.

With six of his 15 home runs coming in the seventh inning or later - two of which were walk-offs - Donaldson has arguably been the league’s most clutch hitter.

And, as a fan, that’s exactly what you want out of an MVP. 

I also think it’s a shame he doesn’t receive extra consideration for having the best twitter handle in the game (@BringerofRain20).... 

But I guess that’s just one reason why I don’t get a vote.

 

Follow Tyler and #section108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108