Yankees’ Aaron Boone defends $21 million infielder’s struggles

MLB: Chicago Cubs at New York Yankees, josh donaldson
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are set to play their final game against the Chicago Cubs this Sunday afternoon before enjoying a week off for the All-Star break. This break is much-needed, as the Yankees strive to recover and recalibrate their mindset after an inconsistent first half of the 2023 season.

Josh Donaldson: A Season of Regression

A significant weak spot for the team this year has been third baseman, Josh Donaldson. The 37-year-old veteran has been on a declining trajectory since the 2021 season, ending last year with a .222 batting average, a .308 OBP, and contributing 15 homers and 62 RBIs.

In his 31 games this season, Donaldson has a batting average of .146, a .222 OBP, 10 homers, 15 RBIs, and an 82 wRC+. His strikeout rate stands at an all-time high of 27.8%, and for the second season in a row, he’s notched a walk rate below double digits.

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Exceptional Slugging Amidst Overall Struggle

What’s intriguing about Donaldson’s performance this season is the phenomenal slugging metrics he’s managed. Despite the decrease in his swing decisions and plate discipline over time, Donaldson has achieved a 51.5% hard-hit rate, 22.1% barrel rate, and 92.7 average exit velocity. The power with which he strikes the ball has led to some unique stats this season.

Out of his 15 hits this season, 10 are home runs. Despite this, Donaldson, who’s earning a $21 million base salary this year, hasn’t shown a significant turnaround in performance. Nevertheless, Manager Aaron Boone remains optimistic, stating, “I feel like he’s really close. You don’t just run into 10 homers in [96 at-bats]… He’s got to keep plugging away. He knows there’s a lot of work to be done. But I feel like in a lot of ways he’s very close.”

The Yankees Need More Than Just Home Runs

Regardless of whether Donaldson experiences a hot streak, the reality remains that his current stats are the lowest in his career, and he has one of the lowest batting averages across the league. Sporadic home runs don’t compensate for the inability to get on base or hit for contact. He seems to be solely focusing on hitting home runs, a strategy that’s not working for the Yankees, who currently have one of the lowest on-base percentages in baseball.

“Obviously, the results haven’t been there, minus hitting some home runs, but at the end of the day I can’t control where the ball is going,” Donaldson said. “I just try to go up there and have the best at-bat that I can and let whatever happens, happens.”

Future Outlook: Trade Deadline and a Fresh Start

As the Yankees approach the trade deadline, the hope is that General Manager Brian Cashman will acquire a player to bolster the offense, potentially adding value to Donaldson’s home runs. Meanwhile, the upcoming week off presents an opportunity for a fresh start for a team that is sorely missing the prowess of superstar slugger Aaron Judge.