Josh Donaldson vs. Hiro Nakajima: The Story of a Double Standard


There is no question that Hiroyuki Nakajima has failed to impress in his short time with the Athletics thus far.  It’s Spring Training though, so a little common sense should lead you to withhold judgment until the regular season atleast gets under way.  Unfortunately common sense isn’t always plentiful, so there are many calls throughout the A’s fanbase to relegate Nakajima to bench duty due to his lackluster performance this spring.

Mar 5, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima (3) at bat during the fourth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The logic behind these opinions is that Nakajima is not proven at this level, and there is no guarantee that he can in fact adjust to major league pitching.  He’s not comfortable here yet, and until he is, the lack of production will likely persist.  Through 14 games and 34 at-bats Nakajima has posted a .176/.300/.202 slash line.  He has just one extra base hit, a double, and six hits total for the spring.  But it’s still March…. MARCH.

Hiro Nakajima is not the only projected everyday player who’s been struggling mightily this spring, but he’s the only one facing this type of criticism.  Josh Donaldson has worked his way into the hearts of many Athletics fans with his personality, and high volume of fan interaction via Twitter.  The “Bringer of Rain” is now a definite fan favorite.  But his slash line over the same sample size is every bit as unimpressive as Nakajima’s.  In 35 at-bats he’s posted a .171/.268/.343 line with 2 home runs.  The two longballs account for the spike in his slugging percentage over Nakajima’s, but his on base numbers leave quite a bit to be desired.  Yet there has been nary a peep about him riding the pine.

Mar 5, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) gestures during the fourth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Sure he was highly productive down the stretch for the A’s last season, but that only came to be after Donaldson couldn’t buy a hit over the first portion of the season and was demoted to Triple A Sacramento.  It wasn’t until Brandon Inge‘s shoulder injury took him out for the duration of the season that Donaldson got a second chance.  He did grab that chance and make the most of it, there’s no denying that.  But does a month and a half of production make Donaldson a proven commodity?

The construction of this team is designed to guard against the possiblity that Donaldson’s hot streak last year was a flash in the pan, and not likely to be repeated.  The addition of Jed Lowrie specifically could end up giving Donaldson a short leash if he doesn’t produce.  Lowrie is having a very nice spring, and the consensus at this point is that he should be in the lineup everyday no matter where he plays.  But very few people are calling for Lowrie to slide over to the hot corner and replace Donaldson, yet there are many for him to take Nakajima’s place.

The bottom line is this, Josh Donaldson is no more proven than Hiro Nakajima is at this point.  Sure, Donaldson showed a little bit of promise last year, and Nakajima has yet to make his major league debut, but that short stretch for Donaldson is in not nearly enough to make him an established big leaguer.  Nakajima can hit, his numbers in Japan make that abundantly clear.  He needs time to adjust to not only a new league, but an entirely new life, so he should get more of a benefit of the doubt than Donaldson should.  Hopefully both of them will get their bats going as the regular season gets under way, and we can all sit back and have a good laugh when we look back to the crazy time when Josh Donaldson and Hiro Nakajima struggled during Spring Training.