Josh Donaldson has been around long enough to know how to weather early season offensive struggles, both for himself and his team.
So while the Yankees third baseman has not yet gotten the end-line results he and the team believe he’s capable of, he is leaning on his experience and trusting that his approach will help him get back on track.
“I think what makes it easier is guys understand what makes them successful,” Donaldson said Friday, before the Yankees’ 4-1 win over the Guardians at the Stadium. “When you have an understanding of that, then there’s a reason why guys have success. We don’t have a bunch of guys in here that have done it for only one year and you’re kind of hoping that it happens. We predominantly have a lot of guys that have had substantial years and you know that’s gonna turn.”
Donaldson, who went 0-for-2 with two walks and a scored run in the Yankees’ win has a slash line of .184/.286/.306 through 14 games.
The 36-year-old, acquired from the Twins at the start of spring training, is hardly the only Yankee off to a slow start, but he knows where he needs to improve.
“I feel like I’m swinging and missing too much right now,” said Donaldson, who had 17 strikeouts and five walks in 52 plate appearances. “I feel like I got a little overanxious probably towards the Toronto series and started expanding the strike zone. I felt like over the road trip, I was starting to do a better job of that, controlling the strike zone and having a little bit of success. But it’s a process.”
The advance metrics support that claim — Donaldson’s whiff rate of 33.7 ranked in the 15th percentile across MLB and his chase rate of 40.4 (well above his career average of 22.8 percent) ranked in the fifth percentile, according to Baseball Savant.
But other underlying numbers related to quality of contact also provided reason to believe that Donaldson is not far off. His average exit velocity ranked in the 94th percentile and his hard-hit percentage ranked in the 70th percentile.
“He’s probably one of the guys I’m actually least worried about,” manager Aaron Boone said. “For me, for him it’s about health. If he’s healthy, Josh Donaldson’s going to hit. So I want him to get rolling, no doubt about it, but I’m also quite confident he’ll get there.”
Boone was hopeful that Donaldson’s pinch-hit double Thursday in Detroit would serve as a jump-start, though that was also the case after the veteran hit his first home run of the year last Saturday in Baltimore. Boone said then that it looked as if something had clicked for Donaldson in his at-bats that night against the Orioles, but in three starts since, he had gone hitless.
“To me, it’s just a day-to-day thing,” Donaldson said. “It’s being able to go out there and repeat and have an approach and trusting the approach.”
As for his health, Donaldson — who briefly nursed a sore right shoulder in spring training — said he has been feeling good so far. Boone has been cautious in his usage of Donaldson, only starting him at third base on back-to-back days once. With Giancarlo Stanton playing the outfield a few games a week, Donaldson has been able to slot in as DH as well “as a way of trying to preserve him a little bit,” Boone said.
“I think early on it’s probably going to be more that way,” Donaldson said. “I can’t tell you a day of when that’s going to change, but we’ll kind of get through the first month and see how it goes from there.