Josh Donaldson’s season has been one full of ups and downs. At the highest of highs, he’s hitting a walk-off grand slam in a packed Yankee Stadium against their AL East rival Tampa Bay Rays. At the lowest of lows, he’s striking out all over the place and making his at-bats uncompetitive in every sense of the word.
The 36-year-old third baseman has been excellent defensively in tandem with DJ LeMahieu, posting some of the best numbers across all of Major League Baseball, but at the plate, he’s quite underwhelming. Donaldson’s strikeout rate sits at 26.4 percent, while he’s slashing .229/.315/.392 with a slightly above-average 104 wRC+ and 15 homers in 122 games.
Compared to Donaldson’s previous seasons, the production is low. His 2021 with the Minnesota Twins ended with a .247/.352/.475 triple slash and a wRC+ of 126, while going deep a commendable 26 times in 135 games. So considering what general manager Brian Cashman paid for in taking on his contract, it hasn’t been good enough … until now.
Donaldson went on the paternity list back on September 6th, and not only did he become a new dad, but since his return on September 10th, he’s looked like a much different player. His numbers against fastballs have looked slightly better, and his wOBA against breaking and off-speed pitches has increased dramatically. However, the sample size is still small.
The good news is that there is a tangible difference in Donaldson’s swing on off-speed pitches, and it has been pretty evident to anyone analyzing his at-bats looking for differences.
Here is a home run that Donaldson crushed against the Milwaukee Brewers on a slider. He’s staying through the zone and tracking the ball as it moves.
Here’s another slider that JD stayed through on from JT Chargois that ended up in the seats:
Now here are two videos from earlier in the season, where Donaldson swung through the zone and dipped his hips inevitably making him miss the ball.
And here’s another on a crazy curveball from Adam Wainwright that got Donaldson to drop his hips:
The buckling of Donaldson’s hips was one of the biggest and most noticeable problems with his swing, and it does appear to be something that he has fixed. Even when he was watching off-speed or breaking pitches and wanted to swing, there were moments when he would move his hips downward and lose any and all chances of tracking the pitches.
Donaldson’s most recent hitting surge is another huge boost to the Yankees' offense. The defense has been consistent, but it was about time that he got his swing in check, especially with the postseason coming up. His most recent 3-for-5 performance against the Boston Red Sox (including a walk-off single to help the Yankees clinch a postseason berth) was one that involved less power and just getting contact on the ball, which at this point is welcome. Donaldson is tracking the ball better, and his bat speed — which was already fast enough — has appeared to speed up through the zone on certain types of pitches.
Donaldson’s stance is much more balanced at this point in the season, and that has contributed to his superior pitch tracking and ability to get on base. Whether he’s mashing home runs or driving in runs because of singles in the gaps, there is something tangibly different about the way that Donaldson is hitting the baseball. The kind of production he’s had since coming off the paternity list and acquiring dad power (.317/.383/.561 with a 168 wRC+) is what was expected of him before the season began, and little improvements like balancing a stance and not dropping hips on offspeed pitches can make a tremendous difference.