Josh Donaldson and Batting Average Regression

To say Josh Donaldson‘s 2013 season was a surprise would be a huge under-statement. He put up a MVP caliber season at a premium position. The exact cause for his turnaround is not exactly known. It could have been his new bat or finally feeling comfortable in his transition to 3B. No matter the cause, since being promoted in the second half of 2012, he has been on a hitting tear.

Going into 2014, his talent level is a bit of a guess because of his variations in production over the past few seasons. To start with, here are the Steamer and ZiPS projections for Donaldson’s talent over the past few seasons.

Season Projection PA R HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG ISO
2011 ZiPS 472 49 13 58 5 0.210 0.288 0.356 0.146
2012 Steamer 435 46 10 43 5 0.220 0.294 0.364 0.144
2012 ZiPS 527 61 13 64 7 0.219 0.290 0.357 0.138
2013 Steamer 403 45 13 47 5 0.250 0.313 0.421 0.171
2013 ZiPS 535 63 15 66 7 0.234 0.295 0.383 0.150
2014 Steamer 596 73 21 78 6 0.273 0.344 0.458 0.186

Projections have not been kind to his average with no value over .250 from 2011 to 2013. His 2013 season AVG was caused from a combination of lower K% (21% to 16%) and higher BABIP (.278 to .333).  These gains may not be sustainable.  His 2013 xBABIP came in at .311, a bit lower than this .333 value. His xK% was higher at 20%. Using the two expected values, his AVG drop to .267, which is close to the 2014 Steamer projection.

In addition to the high AVG, he hit for decent power with 24 HR. His power seems legit. Going into the 2013 season, Steamer projected him for 13 home runs in 403 PA which works out to 21.5 HRs in 668 PA. The power can be seen in his 289-foot fly ball and HR distance which puts him between two other decent power hitters, Carlos Gomez and Adrian Beltre.

With his stolen bases, I would not expect zero, but for every one over three I would consider it a bonus.

Going back to his 2014 Steamer projection, here are his projections: 24 HR, 151 R +RBI,  .273 AVG, 5 SB. I think those numbers will be pretty close to his output, with the exception of his AVG maybe going a bit lower. A lower AVG would lead to a lower R+ RBI total.

Josh Donaldson preformed almost as expected in 2013 given his PA and power. The one exception is his AVG which should drop 30 to 40 points in 2014 because of an inflated BABIP and deflated K%. I still expect a decent season from him, but don’t over pay for his 2013 production. Instead be reasonable and pay for expected production.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

3 Responses to “Josh Donaldson and Batting Average Regression”

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  1. Ryan says:

    Starting to think about keepers here, and doing some archive reading…would you keep Donaldson over Cespedes? Will give context:

    I’m in a 10-team, Roto 5×5 where we keep 8 players on 3-year deals. Rookies or 2nd year guys (like Cespedes, and below, Teheran) can be kept for 5 years. Standard lineup (C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, 3 OF), but we do have both DH and U slots.

    Thus far I have settled on the following 7 keepers:

    M. Cabrera
    J. Upton

    Teheran (on a 5-year deal)

    For my final keeper spot, I have Donaldson, Cespedes, Jordan Zimmerman, A. Craig, and G. Holland. Pitching is too deep to keep a 4th starter, so Zimm is out…not keeping Craig to play at 1B…and I’m obviously not keeping saves. So that leaves Donaldson and Cespedes.

    The big upside on Cespedes is that I do get to keep him for 4 more years…but he has proven to be brittle, as well. And when you consider that I lock up all 3 of my OF spots with no-brainer keepers, I hate locking up DH or U with another one. Could handcuff me come draft time.

    For Donaldson, I would flip him in at 3B when Miggy qualifies at 1B, and still have both DH and U open in the event a quality OF falls to me in the draft. Feel like this just gives me much more flexibility, with not a ton of downside. Donaldson is basically David Wright…less average, less speed, maybe more power, potentially more counting stats in the A’s offense…and he is 3 years younger.

    Thoughts? Would very much appreciate!

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  2. Matt says:

    The one selling point for me is, and you said it, is that Cespedes can be brittle. I think you’ve got a solid strategy and to me Donaldson over Cespedes is an easy call.

    Who’s got the better chance to play 155+ games this year? Donaldson should get you the counting stats and even if his average regresses, it shouldn’t be so much to crush your line.

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  3. Redsoxmaniac says:

    You’re playing with fire not to keep Cespedes, but you have an amazing outfield. Cespedes isn’t brittle as much as he tries to play through injury, which he did last year trying to help Oakland win the West. Guys like him are scary because they don’t stay on the DL as long as they should or will play banged up and produce mediocre numbers. But if he does stay somewhat healthy, and they give him more rest/DH days, could be talking about a top 5 OF.

    Donaldson scares me because that park can take away your HR unless they’re being blasted. any regression in his BABIP or uptick in K% he won’t hold value as much as a Prado or Seager, which could be available in your draft pool? I’m wary of new offense coming out of Oakland. Who was their best hitter last decade? Jack Cust? Eric Chavez? Durazo?

    For how Coors Field kills consistency for pitchers, the Coliseum doesn’t shine bright for consistent offensive contributions unless they are legit stars (Giambi, Cespedes). The only question I ask you is: Is Donaldson that legit talent?

    Also, consider Cespedes to be putting up numbers as his free agent ticket approaches at the end of 2015. And for a possibility that his bat ends up on an AL East team that may have a corner OF and/or DH spot available to him.

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