The (In)sanity of the Josh Donaldson MVP Movement


While we all continue to bask in the afterglow of the Oakland Athletics repeating as AL West champs, for the next week we will be able to pause and take a look at just how the A’s got here.  As Billy Beane expertly crafted the roster for the 2013 Athletics, he built the team to be versatile and deep, so as to enhance their ability to withstand the inevitable injuries that befall any given MLB team.  The lack of reliance on a single player to carry the team to the postseason is exactly what makes the emergence of Josh Donaldson so remarkable.

In 2012, huge season by Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes were paramount in the A’s surprise run to the AL West title, but both of them suffered from down seasons as a whole in 2013.  Perhaps Beane was protecting himself against regression from cornerstone players like that, and it’s fortunate he did just that.  By now, we all know the story of Josh Donaldson, and some regression from him in 2013 would not have been a huge surprise.  But we’ve all been pleasantly surprised by the progress he has made in turning himself from a fringe prospect with Quad-A written all over him, to a legitimate MVP candidate on a team with the second best record in all of baseball.

Sep 17, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) hits the game winning walk off RBI in the 9th inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Coliseum. Oakland won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Donaldson has posted an impressive .306/.388/.511 slash line in 643 plate appearances with 24 home runs and 91 RBI.  His performance this year has undoubtedly cushioned the blow of Reddick’s regression and Cespedes’ inconsistency.  Over recent days during the final home stand in Oakland, the familiar chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” ring throughout the Coliseum every time Donaldson comes to bat.  Up until this point, I hadn’t even given Donaldson a first thought, let alone a second as an MVP candidate.  The buzz is building though, and it seems certainly conceivable that Donaldson will earn some votes in the MVP race for everything he’s done for the A’s.

Of course Donaldson is facing some pretty stiff competition in this race from Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, and Mike Trout.  Each of those three boast rather gaudy numbers in the conventional sense, as well as in more advanced metrics.  Cabrera is set to eclipse the 44 home runs, .330 batting average, and the 139 RBI that made him the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yazstremski. Davis leads the Major Leagues with 51 home runs, and Mike Trout has repeated his phenomenal rookie campaign, and added 35 points to his on base percentage.  Where does Donaldson fit in?

A lot of that depends on where people fall in the debate regarding the meaning behind MVP.  Some feel it simply goes to the best player in the league, no matter what the team’s place in the standings ends up being.  Others believe one requirement is contention by the team in order to establish the “value” in Most Valuable Player.  I tend to fall in the middle.  Sometimes there is a player on a non-contending team that so far outperforms everyone else in the league, that the lack of quality around him cannot be held against him.  If that isn’t the case, then yes I believe the team should have felt a positive impact on their season for the player to be considered.

Donaldson ranks among, or at the top of the heap in WAR with 8.1.  While WAR itself is not the be-all, end-all of measuring a player, it gives a pretty good snapshot of just how impactful they have been.  Donaldson’s 8.1 ranks second in all of baseball, behind none other than Mike Trout and his 9.1 WAR.  So while Donaldson compares favorably to Cabrera and Davis in that respect, he doesn’t quite stack up to the greatness of Trout.

The question to be answered here is not whether or not Donaldson will win the AL MVP, because I think there is a better chance of the Texas Rangers erasing an 8.5 game deficit with 7 games to play than of him actually taking home the hardware.  The question is whether him being in the conversation is crazy in the first place.  It isn’t.

While Donaldson has no chance in comparing to Chris Davis’ 51 home runs, or Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown worthy stats, or Mike Trout’s all out amazingness, he has had an amazing impact on a team that just clinched a division title with a week of baseball left to play.  A’s fans should without a doubt be proud of what Donaldson has done, and go ahead and chant MVP for him.  Just make sure to be clear that you’re chanting for him to be invited into the conversation, it’s the least that can be done for the most valuable Athletic in 2013.