Though he departs on a surprisingly bitter note, Josh Donaldson holds a significant spot in Blue Jays history as the linchpin of the 2015-16 teams that ended a long franchise playoff drought and revived and invigorated a somewhat moribund franchise and its fanbase. As Erik detailed last night, he was involved in many inedible memories in just under four years in Toronto.
Donaldson’s tenure represents a particular interesting juxtaposition in while his on-field dominance was arguably unmatched by any position player to don the team’s uniform, he lacks the longevity of so many of the franchise’s past icons. In many ways, he was like a shooting star, brilliantly shooting across the sky but disappearing so quickly.
We see this reflected in his WAR totals, where he ranks just inside the top 10 despite ranking only 38th in plate appearances. WAR is a counting stat, multiplying productivity and total volume of playing time. While that’s useful, I thought it would be more compelling to look at where Donaldson stands along both dimensions.
Below is a chart showing all 73 players too accumulate 1,000 PA with the Blue Jays (Kendrys Morales becoming the latest member of the club within the last week). The horizontal axis is plate appearances (longevity), the vertical axis is fWAR per 650 PA (roughly one full season, productivity):
Donaldson is the red triangle, and it is here that we see his uniqueness in how much empty space surrounds him compared to other dots as no player comes particularly to Donaldson’s level of productivity.
The closest comparable to him is Fred McGriff, whose time in Toronto was similarly truncated. McGriff is the only player (min 1,000 PA) to best Donaldson’s offensive production, his 152 wRC+ edging out Donaldson’s 150 mark. The next two closest comparables are Devon White and Roberto Alomar, who both came to Toronto in their primes and had relatively short but productive tenures.
But neither is a particularly close match, and if those three dots were removed from the plot, there’s actually almost a circular frontier that can be drawn, with Donaldson near the centre, the remaining points almost equidistant from him.
Though it’s a more nebulous comparison, we can also pull in pitchers, using innings as the horizontal axis and multiplying them by 4.3 (the rough average of plate appearances per inning):
This gives one more decent comparison to Donaldson, perhaps the most apt of all, and that’s Roger Clemens. He spent two just years in Toronto, winning back to back Cy Young awards. Donaldson spent four years, but the core of his legacy is 2015-16, winning one MVP and finishing 4th the next.