Welcome to another edition of Mortal Kombat, where we take two potentially evenly matched players and pit them against each other to see who the better man is. This weeks matchup pits power hitting Josh Donaldson from Oakland against rising Star Nolan Arenado from Colorado. Looking at the early 2015 rankings, Donaldson ranks 5th with only one out of the six ranks over 6. Arenado ranks 7th, and while he has potential, he only placed between 7th and 9th on five out of six lists. Is Donaldson really the better pick here, or are we not giving enough credit to Arenado?
Let’s go to the tale of the tape to see how these two stack up against each other.
|Nolan Arenado||Josh Donaldson|
|Age||24 (April 16th)||29(December 8th)|
|Height||6′ 2″||6′ 0″|
|Bats/Throws||R / R||R / R|
|First Year in Majors||2013||2012|
|ML At Bats||918||1493|
|Donaldson made a brief appearance in the majors in 2010|
In 2014, Donaldson smacked 29 home runs in just over 600 at bats. This is an improvement over his 2013 campaign where he hit 24 in 579 at bats. Arenado managed just 18 home runs, but he only had 432 at bats. Imagine what he could do over a full season. Looking at their average flyball distance in 2014, Donaldson came in at number 50 according to baseball heatmaps, averaging 290.76 feet. Arenado finished number 66 overall, but wasn’t that far behind with an average distance of 289.24 feet.
Their ISO was just as close. Donaldson put up a .201 in 2014, a .199 in 2013 and a .215 during his 1,100 at bats in AAA. Arenado had an ISO of .213 in 2014. He didn’t spend much time in the upper levels of the minors, but his ISO across all three levels was .173. It is not surprising to see a spike at age 23 as he adds muscle, so expect similar numbers in 2015 to what you saw this year. Even their FB% were even in 2014. Donaldson ended with a FB% of 41.1 while Arenado was at 41.8. Donaldson has a higher HR/FB ratio by 3% which is the only noticeable difference between these two men as far as power is concerned.
Normally I might give a slight advantage to a Rockies player given the home run haven called Coors Field. Arenado hit 16 home runs at home, but he only managed 2 on the road. Donaldson, playing in the spacious Coliseum hit 11 home runs at home and 18 on the road. While Donaldson’s home park was somewhat of a disadvantage for him, the road held the same disadvantage for Arenado. Donaldson has had several years to get accustomed to his environment so improved power on the road should be expected from Arenado. Overall, if you’re looking for a power advantage, there really is none. Both men should hit at least 25 over 600 at bats and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of them hit the 30 plateau.
This is Donaldson’s one weak point. In 2013 he hit .301, but I think everyone (including Donaldson) knew that wasn’t going to happen again. His .333 BABIP was high, but not completely unsustainable. Donaldson hit .241 in 2012 and .255 in 2014; that is more indicative to the type of hitter he is, and the .278 BABIP for each of these years support that. His ML strikeout percentage is 18.5%, right in line with his 17.9% in the minors (19.6% in AAA). Additionally his LD% dropped significantly in 2014 while his GB% went up for the second straight year. A repeat of a 13.5% LD rate isn’t going to help his average improve much. A good portion of his drop-off last year was due to the drop in his home average (.233) and against righties (.248). Neither of these were a problem the previous year, but this coincides with the drop in line drives. He needs to move both these numbers in the opposite direction if he is to have any chance of hitting above .260 in the future.
Arenado batted .287 in 2014, and the .294 BABIP suggest there was little luck involved here. He was a .300 hitter in the minors along with a .308 BABIP. There was a nice balance to his line drive, ground ball and flyball percentages, and he lowered his strikeout percentage down to 12.4 which is close to his minor league average (10.3%). As long as he can maintain this, he should be able to maintain last year’s average or potentially improve.
Arenado had a successful sophomore season which was one of the main concerns going into 2014. Donaldson took a step back, but in reality he landed right where many expected him to. Even if Donaldson takes a step forward, his ceiling is no more than .270. That .270 represents Arenado’s floor so the only way these two will be even is if Donaldson improves while Arenado slumps. Given Arenado’s minor league track record and pedigree, I have a hard time seeing this happen.
Runs Batted in
Donaldson knocked in 98 runs this year, 5 more than he did in 2013. Kind of impressive actually when you look at the talent on this team, but you know the philosophy Oakland uses when putting together a team, get the guys that get on base. He spent a majority of the year batting third after being bounced around in 2013 hitting between third and sixth. He should remain in the three hole next year, but could also move to the clean up role now that Cespedes is in Boston. While Donaldson’s batting average left something to be desired in 2014, he was a different man with runners on base. He hit .291 with runners on, .299 with runners in scoring position and .362 with RISP with two outs. I think it’s safe to say regardless of where he hits, expect another 90 RBI campaign.
Arenado could have a tough time reaching 90 RBIs in 2015; then again, he might not. He spent time hitting fourth and fifth, but that was mostly because the Rockies where missing their two biggest offensive weapons. With a healthy Tulowitzki and Cargo, Morneau manning a spot in the middle and the emergence of Blackmon and Dickerson, well there are only so many prime spots in the lineup. Fortunately the Rockies have plenty of talent so hitting 5th or even 6th isn’t a bad thing on this team. Arenado had 61 RBI this year, another 170 at bats and that number could have been close to 90. As for his batting average with runners on, there is really nothing to see here as Arenado was the same type of hitters regardless of who’s on (or not on) base.
The edge here goes to Donaldson for the consistency he has shown the past two years, but the improvements Arenado has shown transitioning to the majors and the talent potentially hitting in front of him can not be ignored. Donaldson is the safe bet, but both men are more than capable of reaching 90 RBIs. If I had to pick one, I’d go with Donaldson just for the fact that he is not going to have the home run hitters in front of him like Arenado which increases his RBI opportunities.
There really isn’t much to discuss here. Arenado is not a stolen base threat. In a little over 2,600 major and minor league at bats, Arenado has stolen a total of 12 bases. That’s 4 more than Donaldson had in 2014 and one less than Donaldson had in 2011 playing in AAA. Donaldson isn’t a speed demon, but you can count on steals in the neighborhood of 10 (similar to Kyle Seager). 8 or 10 stolen bases may not seem like a lot, but they are when the other guy will get you only 2 (if he’s lucky). Every point counts in fantasy.
This is the wild card category. Donaldson scored 93 runs in 2014 and 89 in 2013. Just like the RBIs, the number is somewhat impressive considering who he had hitting behind him. OK there was Cespedes, but he’s gone now so who is there to step up? The free agent class this year is rather thin so the chances of bringing in a power hitter are thin. He’ll score close to 30 with his power, that leaves another 60 for the men behind him which isn’t out of the question even without a power hitter (just a little more difficult). Brandon Moss is still there and Stephen Vogt could turn out to be for real so there are several in-house options. I can see the run total slipping some but not much, worse case scenario would be 80.
Arenado scored 58 runs, that would extrapolate to about 80 or so runs given 600 at bats. Just like with RBIs, this number comes down to where he hits in the lineup and who is left to hit behind him. Worst case is he hits 6th leaving Rosario and whoever ends up with the second base job (Rutledge or LeMahieu) to drive him home. If things turn out like that, I wouldn’t expect more than 65. That number would increase with a better spot, but we have no way of knowing where Colorado will slot him in until we get closer to the season.
For now the advantage goes to Donaldson, but only because he has an established track record and set spot in the lineup. Fortunately we are not drafting now so there is plenty of time to see how thing shake out in Colorado. A prime spot in the lineup puts both of these men even, and the edge could even shift to Arenado given his superior contact skills. Unfortunately, I have to base this decision on what’s in front of me.
ADVANTAGE and Winner: Donaldson
This one is definitely too close to call, so while Donaldson takes the win now, things could change once the season starts. A prime spot in the batting order means increased run and RBI totals for Arenado. Even without that spot, his numbers are good enough to warrant a higher ranking than the 7 we came to a consensus on for the early 3B rankings. I ranked Arenado 8th before doing this breakdown and I’m already regretting not putting him higher, that will change once January rolls around. In a way, being ranked 7th overall is actually a blessing for fantasy owners. Let the others chase the name brand players while you sit back and wait and get a player just as good a few rounds later. That won’t happen though as I’m sure Arenado will be ranked much higher as the season draws near. Not disparaging Donaldson here as I ramble on about Arenado, he is a great option for third base, will give you great numbers in 3 categories and steal you some bases on top of that. Honestly, I’d be happy with either man as my starting third basemen for 2015.
Which one is your favorite here?
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