I remember the 2008 Rich Harden/Chad Gaudin trade between the A’s and the Cubs. Sean Gallagher was a real starting pitching prospect. Matt Murton had already shown that he could be a useful major leaguer. Eric Patterson had great speed and seemingly a plus bat. And then there was a marginal catching prospect, Josh Donaldson.
Unsurprisingly, the A’s were content to let the throw in marinate in the minors while he tried to develop. After all, catchers often develop later than do other players, and you don’t really push non-prospects. When he was finally given a chance in the majors in 2012, Donaldson, no longer a catcher, was merely adequate. It wasn’t until the next year, at age 27, when he put up his first impressive season. Another followed. Then there was a controversial trade to Toronto followed by a HR spike and MVP. Last year there was a spike in walk rate. We now have a fully formed superstar who has done some things in the last four years that very few players in history have ever done.
Josh Donaldson? Really?
There are 73 HoME-eligible position players with my adjustments who have one season of 8 WAR, two more of 7 WAR, and one more of 6 WAR. Not surprisingly 69 of them, all but Cupid Childs, Hughie Jennings, Ralph Kiner, and Albert Belle, are in the HoME. There are five active players who have done the same: Alex Rodrigiez (he’s kinda active, right?), Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, Mike Trout, and Josh Donaldson.
Among eligible players not in the Hall, Barry Bonds put up fourteen seasons of 7.3+ bWAR. Jeff Bagwell had four. Dick Allen boasts three such seasons. And just eleven other eligibles not in the Hall have even two seasons of 7.3+ bWAR in their entire careers, including HoMErs Larry Walker, Bobby Grich, Graig Nettles, Jim Wynn, and Ken Boyer. That’s it.
And then there’s Josh Donaldson. He has four. And they’re in a row.
The only players outside the Hall with four consecutive 7.3 bWAR seasons are Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, and Josh Donaldson.
C’mon, not Josh Donaldson.
In all of baseball history, there are only 39 players with four total seasons of 7.3+ bWAR. Only 26 have ever done that consecutively: Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, Alex Rodriguez, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, Mike Schmidt, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Wade Boggs, Jimmie Foxx, Mike Trout, Joe Morgan, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Ron Santo, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Charlie Gehringer, and Hughie Jennings.
Oh, and Josh Donaldson.
So we’re looking at a game-changer. An elite all-time great, right?
Not so fast.
The 2015 AL MVP turned 31 earlier this month. That’s fairly old for a player with only 3102 trips to the plate. If we look at those within 200 plate appearances of Donaldson through age 30, only fourteen are remotely as successful, putting up as many as 20+ bWAR through that time.
Name Post-30 WAR ============================================= Ichiro Suzuki 34.0 (and counting, perhaps) Brian Giles 24.9 Wally Schang 20.5 Al Dark 19.9 Doug DeCinces 18.8 Reggie Sanders 18.2 Pedro Guerrero 7.0 Joe Cunningham 2.1 Ed Bailey 6.8 Jocko Milligan 0.0 Fred Carroll 0.0 (career ended at 26) Jack Rowe 3.9 John Valentin 6.0 Al Rosen 3.2
For Donaldson’s HoME chances, this is not a good sign. Donaldson has to be as good as Schang the rest of the way to make the HoME. In spite of being in the company of some of the greatest to ever put on a uniform in terms of consecutive excellent campaigns, he’s already old-ish.
Among third basemen, I place Donaldson 52nd on my all-time list. He’s going to need to pass another 30 or so players. Yes, another 7-WAR season gets into shouting distance, but the Tim Wallachs and Harlond Clifts of the world aren’t inspiring column inches for Hall cases. I think it’s going to be an uphill climb. My money is on the under. Of course I’d never have expected Josh Donaldson to get this far.