Is the Oakland Athletics’ Josh Donaldson just on a hot streak, or is he showing real improvement?


(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson is on a bit of a heater. He is batting .280 with 16 home runs this season and has six homers in the last 14 days, including this shot that gave the A’s a 5-4 lead in the top of the seventh on Wednesday against the New York Yankees.

Last year, the 28-year-old infielder batted .301 with a .499 slugging percentage, including 24 home runs in 158 games, which fueled a ZiPS projection of .488 slugging with 31 homers in 674 plate appearances for this season. Are we seeing real improvement or just a hot streak?

Ten of his home runs have been hit in either neutral or pitchers’ ballparks and seven have been hit at home, which is encouraging. Oakland Coliseum is considered an extreme pitchers’ park and, according to Fangraphs, had a home run park factor of 96 for right-handed hitters like Donalsdon in 2013.

Donaldson is striking out slightly more often but is walking more as well, likely a result of swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone.

And Donaldson appears to be getting the ball in the air a bit more, with increased power sending them out of the stadium.

Here is likely the true indication that we are seeing some real improvement from Donaldson: He is hitting to the opposite field with more power than ever before. This season, he has five opposite-field home runs, compared with just four from his first three years in the big leagues combined. His isolated power is also up dramatically.

“There are a couple [of reasons for the turnaround in 2012], but you know just getting comfortable in my environment, having confidence in the ability I had,” Donaldson said. “When I got the opportunity — the last time in 2012 — everything just really took off.”

Looks like things are taking off again.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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