Do you remember Josh Donaldson back in 2019 when he donned the Atlanta Braves threads? In 155 games, he hit 37 home runs, scored 96 runs, drove in 94 runners and slashed .259/.379/.521. He was a fantasy force that season, and after missing time in both 2017 and 2018, it was nice to have Donaldson operating at full steam. However, for the third time in four years, Donaldson missed time in 2020, appearing in just 28 games for the Minnesota Twins. His six home runs in 28 games isn’t too shabby, but he left a lot to be desired in his underwhelming .222/.373/.469 triple slash. This upcoming 2021 season ultimately is a re-hashing of recent storylines surrounding Donaldson in the fantasy baseball realm. Will we get a full season of health for Donaldson, where he hits 30+ home runs and drives in 90+ runners? Or, are fantasy owners forced to see Donaldson sit on their injured list, eagerly awaiting his return to the lineup?
It’s hard to take a lot away from Donaldson’s 2020 season, but some of the notable takeaways were that his 6.9 percent barrel rate and 6.2 degree launch are not good, and far from his usual marks.
Courtesy of Baseball Savant & Fangraphs
Donaldson only appeared in a handful of games before missing time with a calf issue, so what about his numbers post-injury?
All of 2020
Courtesy of Fangraphs
Sure, the numbers are still a step down from peak Donaldson, but they are certainly closer than his full 2020 stat line might otherwise indicate.
One interesting thing about Donaldson is that his overall contact rate is down. Furthermore, the overall trend line since 2013 or 2014 is down and to the right. His swinging strike rate is only slightly elevated, and it hasn’t really affected him too much, although you could argue that his batting average isn’t what it used to be, as that has been trending down since 2014 or 2015. Now, when you miss significant time, it’s harder to get and stay in rhythm, so one must decide how much that factors into the equation.
Also, sure, his swinging strike rate is trending up a smidge, but as he continues to get older, he’s going to lose some things. If he whiffs a bit more, so be it. Even as a .250-.260 hitter, Donaldson has plenty of fantasy value and one could argue that he’ll hit in the upper-third of one of the best lineups in baseball.
There’s honestly not too much to say about Donaldson, because when he’s healthy, he’s a force. However, health is a major factor as Donaldson continues to age, and the injury risk is banked into his current price. As I mentioned earlier, he’s missed significant time in three of the past four seasons.
2018: shoulder, calf
2019: healthy = MONSTER CAMPAIGN
I wonder how much different Donaldson’s average draft position (ADP) would be if we could get a guarantee of a full season of health? Cut in half? Probably right around there to be honest. He’s going to hit in the top-third of a potent Minnesota lineup headlined by MVP candidate Byron Buxton (wink wink), and other sluggers like Miguel Sanó and Nelson Cruz . Also, don’t forget the table-setters that will pad Donaldson’s RBI opportunities, namely Max Kepler and Luis Arraez.
The third base position is loaded with talent and the health concerns surrounding Donaldson have pushed his price way down. He’s currently the 21st third baseman off the board, per NFBC data, coming after the likes of Ke’Bryan Hayes, Gio Urshela and Andrés Giménez . Wow. Who woulda thunk that!?
Ultimately, the 2021 campaign for Donaldson will either come with great health and great results, or fantasy owners will be frustrated as Donaldson was productive, but they didn’t get enough games to really benefit. However, considering you can get Donaldson just inside the top 200 players, it’s hard not to take a leap of faith and hope Donaldson can stay healthy for another massive fantasy campaign.
Staying in the American League will give him the benefit of potentially getting a day or as the team’s designated hitter, assuming Nelson Cruz allows it!