When results of the first round of All-Star voting were released by Major League Baseball early last week, the pervading reaction in the Oakland clubhouse might have been described as: Sheesh, finally.
Josh Donaldson, who was passed over for the midsummer classic last year before placing fourth in end-of-season league MVP voting, was the leading vote getter among American League third basemen. It was an indication that some outside the Bay Area are catching on to what the A’s, their fans and some statistics have claimed for a while: that since the start of 2013, Donaldson has been among the best players in baseball.
Entering Sunday, Donaldson led A.L. position players in Wins Above Replacement, according to baseball-reference.com, with the metric saying Donaldson has been worth a full win more to his team this season (4.4) than the next most valuable player, Angels center fielder Mike Trout (3.3).
Donaldson then helped lift the A’s to a series sweep of Trout’s Angels with a 6-3 win Sunday afternoon, keying a four-run third inning with a two-run single off Los Angeles right-hander Jered Weaver. The A’s, who led the Angels by 11/2 games in the A.L. West entering the series, outscored their division rivals 26-11 in the three games and travel to New York today holding a 41/2-game lead.
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While the sweep – part of which the A’s played without Brandon Moss (right calf strain) and Josh Reddick (hyperextended knee) – further underscored the depth of the A’s lineup and featured a star performance from Yoenis Cespedes on Saturday night, Donaldson was steady in the middle of the order, going 5 for 12 with two home runs, seven RBIs and four runs.
Sunday, the A’s led 1-0 in the third when Donaldson came up with one out and the bases loaded, a situation in which he has thrived in his major-league career. His single into left field made him 14 for 28 lifetime with the bases loaded with 30 RBIs. It also helped the A’s break through against Weaver, who had posted a 0.41 ERA in his previous six starts against Oakland.
“It’s just one of those things where I focus – I don’t want to say ‘more’ – but it enhances it a little bit,” said Donaldson, who’s batting .328 this season with men in scoring position. “I really want to come through for my team, and I’m in a situation where I get opportunities pretty often to drive some runs in. I like to do those kinds of things, so it’s fun.”
Entering Sunday, Donaldson led the majors in runs (48), while ranking third in the A.L. in total bases and sitting tied for third in homers and extra-base hits, and fourth in RBIs. He has reached base safely in his last 47 games as a third baseman, the longest such streak at that position since Alex Rodriguez in 2004, and his 46 RBIs through May were tied for the third-most by an A’s player in the Oakland era.
Moss, who also ended May with 46 RBIs, said there’s no question Donaldson has been the A’s MVP this season. Shortstop Jed Lowrie said he agrees an argument can be made that Donaldson has been as valuable to the A’s as any player to his team in 2014 – as the WAR statistic suggests.
“I think there’s certain stats that have their strengths and their flaws, but I think that one, in regards to what Josh is doing now, I think it’s spot on,” Lowrie said. “You don’t have to look far. Look at the numbers; look at what he does on defense.”
Indeed, Donaldson leads A.L. position players in defensive WAR as well, even though he has committed the most errors of any A.L. third baseman (nine). Lowrie said in that case, Donaldson’s range at third might work against him – he attempts to get to more balls, resulting in more chances and more difficult plays.
It’s that trait, more than numbers or advanced metrics, that former A’s third baseman Sal Bando cited during the weekend when asked about Donaldson.
Said Bando, who captained the A’s in their 1974 World Series title year, “When you consider (Donaldson) came from being a catcher to a third baseman (two years ago), it’s amazing he’s played as well as he has.
“It shows his athleticism,” Bando said. “He’s a hard-nosed player. He’ll take one off the chest; he’ll take it off his head if he has to. He’s out there to win.”