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Josh Donaldson, biggest impact of the Blue Jays off-season
By Eric Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
The complexion of the Toronto Blue Jays this spring is much different than the marginal club marched out onto the field in 2014. Among many other transactions, the Jays made two massive moves, signing the Canadian catcher Russell Martin while exchanging third basemen with the Oakland Athletics.
Unquestionably, the Martin signing is a giant leap forward, at least defensively, as Dioner Navarro, last year’s catcher, was ranked last in the American League with a -20.0 RAA (Statscorner Runs Above Average).
But Martin’s value is different; in some ways, it’s unquantifiable. Last season, he was worth 5.3 WAR, but very little of that accounts for his superb pitch framing and prophesized leadership within the clubhouse.
Thus, the bigger addition, on paper anyways, is the power-hitting third baseman Josh Donaldson.
Last season, for 70 games anyways, Brett Lawrie manned the hot corner. He slugged a .247/.301/.421 slash, producing a 3.7 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) with 12 home runs.
He was even acceptable defensively. In the brief time that he was in the lineup, Lawrie was an above-average defender producing a 4.1 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating).
So it’s not as if Lawrie was an incompetent player when he was in Toronto. At his very worst, he was an average third baseman.
The biggest transition next season is that the Jays are going to see a better version of Lawrie in Donaldson for approximately twice as many games as they did in 2014.
Over the past three seasons, Donaldson has averaged 130 games played. That’s also accounting for an outlier season in the 2012 where he played only 75 games. In that time span, he’s been valued at 5.2 WAR on average. That’s a 3.43 WAR improvement over his predecessor.
In terms of defence, Donaldson continues to dominate Lawrie with a 15.5 UZR in 2014, making it nearly law that Donaldson is a better player.
The only conceivable way for Lawrie to better Donaldson in the future is for him to prove he can stay healthy for a whole season and actually play more than 125 games.
And maybe he can; maybe he will. It is conceivable his injuries are linked to the physically nagging playing surface at the Rogers Centre; however, it’s unlikely given that his injury history includes a couple broken fingers, a sprained ankle from sliding into second and an oblique strain, ending his 2014 campaign.
FanGraphs Steamer projection system forecasts Lawrie to play 130 games this season, something he hasn’t done since being a part of the Milwaukee Brewers farm system in 2010. They also project him to produce a .263/.322/.426 slash with a 3.7 WAR; a would-be career year for the 25 year-old.
Steamer says that Donaldson will be, well Donaldson. They estimate he will be worth 5.6 WAR produced by a .265/.341/.472 slash and .356 wOBA (weighted on-base average).
Ergo, the difference between the two isn’t going to be night-and-day, according to FanGraphs, but it is still going to be significant and, unlike the Martin-Navarro transition, it will be quantifiable.
But in 2015, mostly because it has yet to be proven Martin’s impact in Toronto, Donaldson will prove he was the move of this off-season for the Toronto Blue Jays.