The Oakland Athletics have the best record in the American League at 38-24, and they enjoy a 4.5 game lead in the AL West. More impressively, they have baseball’s best run differential at +113. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is a big reason why.
A former 1st round pick of the Chicago Cubs, Donaldson came over to the A’s in 2008 in the Rich Harden trade. For much of his professional career, Donaldson spent most of his time behind the dish. However, he started transitioning to third base in 2012, and since last year that’s been his exclusive position.
From the beginning of 2013 till now, Donaldson has accumulated 11.4 fWAR, the second highest total in baseball behind Mike Trout. With the bat and with the glove, he’s the premier third baseman in baseball.
Last season Donaldson excelled in all areas of the game, producing a .301/.384/.499 batting line for a 148 wRC+ and 7.7 fWAR, helping lead the A’s to a divisional title. This year his average is down as he’s striking out more frequently, but he’s more than making up for it with increased power production. While he hit 24 home runs last season, he’s hit 17 long balls already. That ties him for third in the major leagues behind Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion.
Like most of his teammates, Donaldson is hitting more balls in the air in an effort to hit more home runs. His fly ball percentage is up from 35.6 percent last year to 42.7 percent this season. As a team, the A’s have a 41.8 percent fly ball rate which is three points higher than the next closest team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Overall they have a 114 wRC+, which trails only the Jays.
Donaldson isn’t alone in the A’s lineup. Brandon Moss is quietly one of the best power hitters in baseball and the platoon of Derek Norris and John Jaso has been a two-headed monster at the catcher position. Coco Crisp is a very good on-base man with some pop and Yoenis Cespedes provides more power to the lineup.
This is an Athletics team that is composed almost entirely of players that Billy Beane has brought in via trade. Since the turn of the century only four teams have won more games than Oakland. This might be the year they break through and take home a World Series title.