As of Friday night’s game against the Guardians, things had not gotten off to a good start for Josh Donaldson in 2022. He went into that game hitting to just a .270 wOBA (78 wRC+) with a 32.7% strikeout rate, his highest ever by a big, big margin. The normal caveats apply, of course, in that the season is still very young and all that. Regardless, it’s alarming to see things go so wrong in such an unexpected way.
Overall, Donaldson’s whiff rate stands at 33.7%, which ranks in the 15th percentile in the league. So what’s behind that? The first place I looked was his whiff rate on fastballs, since that’s where a lot of this trouble tends to start. His whiff rate on fastballs is fairly high at a touch over 31%, but it’s actually in line with the last few years. The problem appears to be with secondary pitches.
Against curveballs, Donaldson’s whiff rate is 50%, up from 36.2 in 2021, 22.2 in 2020, and 30 in 2019.
Against changeups, Donaldson’s whiff rate is 38.9, up from 22.7 in 2021, 29.6 in 2020, and 34.1 in 2019.
I expected a similar trend with sliders, but that didn’t hold true. His whiff rate on sliders is fairly similar to previous years. However, the strikeout percentage itself on the pitch–57%–is miles beyond where it was in the previous three seasons. So while he may not be volume-whiffing on sliders like he is against curves and changes, he’s swinging through them at the wrong times.
Is it a (temporary?) pitch recognition issue? Maybe. It is pressing? Maybe. Is it something to be overly concerned about? Not yet. And on the plus side, when Donaldson is making contact, he’s hitting the ball hard, ranking in the 94th percentile for exit velocity and 70th for hard hit percentage.
Like I would say for everyone, it’s still April. If this is still an issue in May, yes, let’s start to worry. But there’s still plenty of time for Donaldson to turn this around cut down on the whiffs.