A's Will Need Josh Donaldson's Raw Power More Than Ever Down the Stretch

Mike RosenbaumMLB Prospects Lead WriterAugust 13, 2014

USA Today

The Oakland A’s put an end to the Kansas City Royals’ eight-game winning streak on Tuesday night, as they exploded for 11 runs on 20 hits to back another strong outing from left-hander Jon Lester.

But the A’s star of the game was third baseman Josh Donaldson, who went 3-for-4 with a pair of late-inning home runs and four RBI—one of his finest performances of the season.

Donaldson’s second homer, which came in the eighth inning off left-hander Bruce Chen, was his 25th of the season, a new career high for the 28-year-old All-Star after hitting 24 during his breakout 2013 campaign.

And with slugger Yoenis Cespedes and his 17 home runs with Oakland no longer in the picture, the A’s will need Donaldson to fill his shoes in the power department down the stretch.

The A’s offense has struggled since trading Cespedes at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, averaging a little more than three runs per game and hitting just six home runs in their previous 11 games entering Tuesday.

Those six long balls didn’t come from the A’s usual power hitters either; Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt chipped in with two apiece, while Eric Sogard and Derek Norris both added one.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press


Therefore, it was refreshing to see Donaldson jump the yard twice Tuesday, especially because they were his first home runs since July 30, his last game playing alongside Cespedes.

After the win, Donaldson acknowledged that the team is still adjusting to a Cespedes-less lineup (via Jane Lee of MLB.com):

"It's one of those things where you're still trying to get the feel for the lineup just because there obviously has been some change," Donaldson said. "I believe we have a good lineup and that we'll continue to have success.”

While the A’s offense collectively is still trying to get a feel for the lineup, Donaldson’s bat has warmed up in a big way this month. His multi-hit performance on Tuesday extended his hitting streak to nine games, during which he’s batting .406 with five extra-base hits, seven RBI and three stolen bases. However, his uptick in production extends well beyond the past nine games.

Donaldson showed plenty of power during the first half of the season—as in before the All-Star break—hitting 20 home runs and posting a .449 slugging percentage in 92 games, but his .238 batting average and .317 on-base percentage both were way, way down compared to his 2013 numbers (.301 AVG, .384 OBP).

Since then, however, Donaldson has been a more complete offensive player, batting .326/.434/.581 with five home runs, seven doubles, 19 RBI and nearly as many walks (16) as strikeouts (18) over 24 games. Additionally, the right-handed batter’s strong second half has pushed his batting average to .250 or better for the first time since June 29.

Donaldson's ZIPS projections, per FanGraphs, for the remainder of the season calls for him to hit six more home runs and accrue 24 RBI over the A’s final 41 games, though that already seems inaccurate after his two-homer, four-RBI outburst on Tuesday. In general, it’s hard to believe Donaldson would hit only four additional bombs in his next 40 games.

Furthermore, Donaldson’s batting average on balls in play this season (.270) is down considerably compared to his 2013 BABIP (.333) and career average (.299).

ZIPS believes he’ll post a .284 BABIP over the rest of the season, which is fair given his aforementioned totals. However, Donaldson has proved to be a streaky hitter in the past, which means there’s also a realistic chance he’ll blow past that projection.

Though I can’t confirm it, I would guess that the A’s decision to trade Cespedes at the deadline at least had something to do with the fact that Donaldson, going by the numbers, has underproduced this season and was therefore poised for a strong finish.

Either way, the A's All-Star third baseman couldn’t have picked a better time to finally find his groove at the plate.