Head over to the leaderboards, sort by third basemen over the last 30 days and filter by line drive rate and a really unexpected thing happens. There are 29 qualified third basemen on that list. Dead last is the leading All-Star vote getter at the hot corner in Josh Donaldson, who has a 6% line drive rate over the last month. Six percent. If that didn’t surprise enough, at the top of this list is none other than maybe-back-from-purgatory David Freese, who has hit almost 35% line drives over the last month. Go figure.
Why I was looking at line drive rates, I have no idea. But I guess that’s a glimpse into my obsession. Regardless, it kind of beautifully articulates the ebb and flow to a major league baseball season. On the one hand, you have a top tier third baseman in Josh Donaldson who has been largely useless for the better part of a month and then you have waiver wire fodder in David Freese who has been sort of useful. Of course, the question is whether any of this nonsense will continue.
David Freese started the season batting .203/.262/.273 from the opening bell to the end of May. He had three doubles and two home runs over 141 plate appearances. He was striking out almost 30% of the time and looked generally lost. This coming from a career .280/.350/.412 hitter. Nobody expected Freese to be a world beater, but I don’t think anyone expected Freese to be worse than Justin Smoak.
In June, Freese started walking more at 10.6% and wound up hitting a respectable .280/.372/.329. Now obviously there’s not much power there but progress is progress. And yes, in June, he hit 34.5% line drives. And in baseball, it’s probably indisputable that a line drive is a plus considering the league average BABIP on line drives currently stands at .655. Barreling the ball is a good thing, and if you’re David Freese, it’s welcome good news in what appeared to be a lost season. If you’re really digging deep at third base and have a need, David Freese could be in for a decent July.
And then there’s Josh Donaldson, who hit the ever loving goodness out of the ball, slashing a tidy .280/.375/.550 with 15 home runs, 12 doubles, and 46 RBI over the first two months of the season. He appeared to be well on his way of a repeat of his breakout 2013 campaign which merited serious MVP consideration in a field featuring some guys named Cabrera and Trout.
Rather inexplicably, that bubble burst over the last month. Since June 1, Donaldson has slashed .174/.216/.275 with three home runs and zero doubles. And he’s hit 6% line drives. For context, back when I was discussing on Twitter whether Mike Moustakas did indeed have one solitary line drive by mid April, even he finished the month at 11.1%. 6% is the worst line drive rate for any player over the course of a month all season long.
Now, we know that line drive rates really don’t stabilize until roughly 600 balls in play, so this isn’t time to run into the streets with pitchforks and fire screaming about the end of days. But Josh Donaldson mashing everything into the turf is confounding at a minimum. There’s no indication that Donaldson is hurt, the eye test doesn’t seem to turn up anything particularly glaring in terms of his swing. And as long as Derek Norris continues to go all Planet of the Apes, it doesn’t seem to matter to the Oakland Athletics.
But it probably matters to Donaldson owners in fantasy land. And from my chair, that dear friends creates an opportunity. With his slash line down to .245/.325/.459, not to mention his getting a “mental break day” today, you might want to go shaking the tree to see if you can get his owner to cough him up on the cheap. Because raise your hand if you think Josh Donaldson is going to hit 6% line drives the rest of the season.
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