The Yankees traded for Josh Donaldson this offseason with the hope they could substantially upgrade the left side of their infield and revive the career of a big-time hitter who had won the American League MVP award in 2015.
Through the first 79 games from their new third baseman, the Yankees had gone 1-for-2.
Donaldson is making a strong case for his first Gold Glove, and several metrics indicate he should be the AL front-runner. The Yankees believe there is still more in Donaldson as a hitter, and they are not content with the trade-off of a vacuum glove and a struggling bat.
“I want both,” manager Aaron Boone said before the Yankees’ 11-5 victory over the Royals on Friday in The Bronx. “And I expect him to still do both.”
Through 80 games, the Yankees are still waiting for the 36-year-old to break through offensively. He has a .687 OPS, which is his worst since 2012. As recently as 2019, Donaldson’s OPS was .900 with 37 home runs. He has nine homers this season.
Donaldson called the start to his Yankees tenure “frustrating,” but said recently his swing has felt better. Right shoulder inflammation sidelined him in late May and early June, and he may have pressed upon returning.
“There was a point after I came off the IL where I was kind of in limbo, in between, where am I going? I felt like I was trying to get it all at once coming back,” said Donaldson, whose average dipped to .223 after he went 1-for-5 with a run scored Friday. “But now I feel like I’ve got a good hold mentally and physically of what I’m trying to accomplish.”
If he has been chasing results too much, it has been reflected in his chase rate. Donaldson had swung at 30.2 percent of pitches out of the strike zone this season, easily the worst mark of his career, in which he has chased 23.2 percent.
The struggles have not translated to the field, where Donaldson has been everything the Yankees expected. Actually, more than that.
“I knew we were still getting a good defender over at third,” Boone said. “I didn’t know we were getting this good of one.”
Donaldson, who made a few nice picks in the Yankees’ win Thursday, is the top AL third baseman both in outs above average and defensive runs saved, advanced statistics that are just what they sound like. The Yankees’ defense has been among the best at defensive efficiency, and the largest jump from last season has been upgrading the left side of the infield.
By outs above average, Donaldson has been the best AL third baseman. Second best has been DJ LeMahieu.
“The defense has been spectacular between him and DJ,” Boone said.
Donaldson has never won a Gold Glove, though he thought “a couple times” he should have received stronger consideration for the award.
In his 12th season, he has changed a bit defensively. His range might be down, but he is playing further back as a Yankee, which is helping him get to more balls.
Perhaps that will end up bringing him an honor that has eluded him.
“It’d be nice. Personally, I think that’s really the only award I haven’t won as a player,” Donaldson said. “I’ve always wanted to win it. I take a lot of pride in my defense. … But at the end of the day, I’m just trying to go out there and make plays.”