Josh Donaldson is a great hitter. Even while battling chronic calf injuries in the last few years of his career, he has maintained a high level of offensive production. In 135 games and 543 at-bats in 2021, he had a .247/.352/.475 slash line and a 124 wRC+. Donaldson isn’t afraid to tell you this himself, but I will say it for him anyways: he is a very well-rounded hitter. Despite his age and injury history, he still walked 13.6 percent of the time and struck out only 21 percent of the time in 2021.
The immediate concern when acquiring a player in the late stages of their career is that a fall off could happen very quickly. However, his batted ball profile and plate discipline give strong reason to believe that Josh Donaldson’s production in 2022 and 2023 should continue to be near what he has done in the previous three seasons. Here is a quick snapshot of his Statcast batted ball profile in recent years.
In terms of Sweet Spot %, he has not shown any decline. The same goes for Barrel %, where he had his career peak in 2021. On top of that, his xwOBA on contact was similar to his outcomes during his prime years in Toronto. In other words, his expected outcomes on balls put in play were just as good as his best hitting seasons, including his MVP 2015 season . In fact, the discrepancy between his actual outcomes, a .353 wOBA, versus expected outcomes, a .388 xwOBA, suggests Donaldson was pretty unlucky last season. Everything about the surface metrics tells us he is hitting the ball with as much authority as he ever has.
We can dive a bit deeper into Donaldson’s hitting, and he still profiles very well. One important thing that we often see from players falling victim to age is regression against high velocity fastballs. That has not been the case for Donaldson. In 2021, he saw 279 fastballs at 95 mph and higher. His xwOBA against those pitches was .469, an outstanding figure for a mid-30s player who has battled lower body injuries. That’s what happens when you have such an incredible swing. Even with age, that swing will produce fantastic outcomes against a variety of pitches.
This home run came against a 97-mph fastball inside off the plate against Michael Kopech. Kopech has one of the best four-seamers in the league, and Donaldson fired his barrel like it was nothing. Two big things go into this. The first is recognizing the fastball before firing the barrel, and the next is being quick enough to do damage on a very good pitch off the plate. This was not a miss.
You may think that since Donaldson is aging, it may be tough for him to get going on these pitches consistently. That’s not a concern in my opinion, as he had no issues doing the same against Dylan Cease, perhaps the hardest throwing starting pitcher in baseball.
The Yankees have a few right-handed hitters that typically struggle against these types of pitches. Adding Donaldson’s ability to crush high velocity right-handed fastballs is very promising for lineup balance. You may think of Donaldson as the launch angle king, but his swing is one of the more versatile in all of Major League Baseball. His big row and bat comb put him in a position to do damage on any pitch.
In no way is this a one-dimensional hitter. In no way is this your typical 36-year-old. As a gifted hitter with little to no holes in his swing, he can and will be a significant presence in the Yankee lineup barring health. I’m excited to see Donaldson surrounded by a bunch of great hitters. While I expect the Yankees will flip flop lefties and righties, I remain intrigued by Donaldson being protected by Judge or Stanton with an opportunity to make pitchers pay. He’s one of the biggest reasons for hope about the Yankee lineup this season.