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Can Yankees’ Josh Donaldson turn things around in 2023?

October 23, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson (28) reacts after he was struck out in the third inning against the Houston Astros during Game Four of the ALCS in the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When the New York Yankees acquired Josh Donaldson to run the hot corner, it was quite a mixed bag of feelings from the fan base.

The Yankees sent fan favorites Geo Orchilla and Gary Sanchez to the Twins in exchange for JD and IKF, as well as Ben Rortvedt. At the time of the trade, I was on the side that was saying, “Hey, this might actually be a good sneaky move.” Needless to say, it was anything but that, as Josh Donaldson quickly climbed onto the hit list for Yanks fans the world over.

Donaldson’s skill is certainly not in question, and when one takes a look at his career stats, there is no doubting just how talented he is.

Unfortunately, the key word there is “I was. Donaldson was absolutely rotten, and in the postseason, he was one of many men who seemingly fell off the face of the earth. Most notably, he was seen laughing when he returned to the dugout after the third strike, looking at a hanger down the middle of the plate in ALCS That moment seemed like the final nail in the coffin for how his first season as a Yankee went, and many believe this is the version of JD that will stay.

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October 23, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson (28) reacts after he was struck out in the third inning against the Houston Astros during Game Four of the ALCS in the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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Josh Donaldson’s check should bounce, or maybe he should bounce:

The only reason behind this issue is because Cashman and the organization actively went out and took it over, as well as IKF – who’s not out for a walk to watch play either – and agreed to take over Donaldson’s entire contract. This means that JD was set to take home $23 million last season, and this year he’s set to take home another $21 million.

The Yanks basically said no to any of the big SS names that have been on the market the past couple of seasons, in part due to the fact that they have a lot of money for the JD. My biggest gripe with the deal itself is that if the Yankees really wanted to part ways with Gary Sanchez so badly, why didn’t DFA make him keep him and keep Gio? Urshela, now an angel, was objectively better than Donaldson last season.

Donaldson makes just as much money as that which makes it very hard to break away, and unlike Uncle Steve in Queens, Cashman and his co-workers don’t seem keen on cutting their losses and trimming the fat. Even though Donaldson was making a lot more money than he should have been, fortunately he was still very reliable on the defensive side. He recorded 7 DRS and 7 OAA, both best since his 2019 return with the Braves. He was sleek, smooth, and capable of covering exceptional amounts of ground at third base, despite being the least athletic man out there.

However, despite his strong defense, it doesn’t make up for stealing the organization nearly $50 million for two years. Even as one of the best defensive basemen in the league, he still averaged 1.6 fWAR over 132 games played.

For reference, a 1.0 WAR is worth about $8 million, according to Fangraphs, so JD should have been paid close to $12 million or so last season for his efforts, but he’s doubled that. He earned $23 million for swinging and missing in the worst clip of his career and watching more pitches in the middle than ever before.

For the first time since 2010, when he debuted, he posted negative runs according to BaseballSavant’s Swing/Take Runs. He posted -2 ​​across the board this year and I pair that with a career worst Meatball Swing% (meaning he didn’t swing gimme pitches) at 78.1% and 1st Pitch Swing% at 36.3%. He simply didn’t wait for his pitches, was far more aggressive than he should have been at the plate, and didn’t jump on fouls.

Donaldson ranked the lowest 8% of the entire league for Whiff rate this season, and scored the second-lowest Hard Hit% since 2015, at just 43.2% — which was down from 53% in the previous two years. Simply put, he was just foul with the racket in his hands.

If he was on the Yankees’ roster in ’23, there might still be something left in the tank:

The main saving grace of 2022’s awful campaign is that it couldn’t get any worse, right? The biggest thing with Donaldson is that there are tools that obviously make a great hitter, and that was evident for a few years there when he was on his toes with Mike Trout as the best player in baseball.

The other interesting thing is that in Donaldson’s career, over the last 4 years, he’s continued to work with Barrel% and that’s usually associated with his performance. What I mean by that is in ’18 he’s only bowled 8.2% of balls, and in ’19 he’s hitting 15.2%. Then, in the abbreviated 2020 year, it fell to 6.9% before rising to 17.4% the following season. This year, he’s only picked up 9.8% of balls hit in play, and if the recent run shows anything, next year should see a spike, in theory at least.

The most likely position for Donaldson, though, seems to be platooning in 3B and getting occasional DH days when, and if, Stanton is deployed overseas. He can still make a difference in this team if a few things go his way and if he gets back to what made him so successful in the past.

Donaldson has always been a guy who is very passionate about his craft and is always in the lab trying to work out kinks in his swing and approach. Last season was the worst for him, and if he wants to have any chance of saving face with fans of the franchise, he’s got to bounce back in a big way. No one knows exactly what Poon and co are. They think when it comes to what OD’s lineup will be like a few months from now, but if JD is still in Pinstripes, he has to do more than he did last year.

There is simply no way the team can keep throwing him out there and have him hit anywhere in the middle of the lineup; I don’t care what his pedigree indicates.

Unfortunately, Father Time always gets the best of us in the end, and the spotlight on his career may be waning. If he wants any chance to continue playing baseball at a high level, he needs to make changes. He can’t watch the notes hit down the middle of the board and then swing the slider down and away. Last year, the JD 502 saw an amazing pitch low and far, just outside the strike zone, and chased down those pitches at an astronomically high rate. If he wants to turn back the clock one last lap, he has to be more disciplined.

For a guy who’s walked at least 10% of the time every year since 2013, the less than 10% video he posted last season (even a barely 9.9%) must start a fire inside him. Couple that with the worst K% in 2010 and 2020 for his impressive career at 27.1%, and there should be some incentive to improve. I know not everyone is a fan of Bringer of Rain, but that’s because it only brought us pain 90% of the time last year. If he’s able to flip script and JD-esque numbers like he did in years past, maybe he’ll have a big role on this team after all.

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