- Josh Donaldson and Jose Ramirez are two players that offer plenty of value to your fantasy team. So who should you take if given the opportunity?
The SI.com Debate Series will pit two of our writers against one another on opposing sides of a decision many fantasy owners will face during their drafts. In this installment, Jon Tayler and Michael Beller debate Josh Donaldson and Jose Ramirez.
Michael Beller makes the case for Jose Ramirez...
Do you ever play around with the play index at Baseball Reference? It’s a really fun tool, and I highly recommend it for baseball junkies. I love messing around on the index, creating groups of players by using admittedly arbitrary (yet thoroughly impressive) thresholds, and seeing who cleared them in a given season, series of seasons or career.
When doing this, you always want to go set the thresholds a little lower than the exact numbers of the player you’re trying to highlight for two reasons. First, you want to be inclusive. Second, you don’t just want him to hit the threshold. You want him to soar beyond it. You also want to set your thresholds at a multiple of five. Makes it feel a little less arbitrary. Plus, no one stops and takes a breath on, say, their 32nd birthday the way they do on their 30th. We’re just more comfortable with multiples of five. It’s human nature.
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Now that we’ve set those ground rules, let me give you an example. The typical fantasy baseball league uses five offensive categories: batting average or OBP (please use OBP), runs, homers, RBI and steals. We talk about true five-category players as though they are the holy grail only because they are. If you find someone who can legitimately contribute to all five categories, you grab a hold and don’t let go. With that in mind, guess how many players last year hit at least .305 with an OBP of at least .370, and minimums of 90 runs, 25 homers, 70 RBI and 15 steals. Any guesses? Go ahead, speak them into the screen.
The correct answer is two. The two players in question? Mike Trout and Jose Ramirez. Had Trout not lost about 50 games due to injury, we could’ve raised the thresholds because Ramirez more than did his part. The breakout star hit .318/.374/.583 (yes, .583, which ranked seventh in the majors) with 25 homers, 56 doubles, 107 runs, 83 RBI and 17 steals, all while being the best player on a 102-win team. He made the All-Star Game, won a Silver Slugger, and finished third in MVP voting behind Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge.
The heady company Ramirez kept last season didn’t end there. Weighted runs-created plus is great, catch-all metric that strives to quantify, you guessed it, a player’s overall run creation. It’s indexed to 100, with each point above or below indicating that a player is 1 percent greater or worse than league-average. Ramirez put up a wRC+ of 120 last year, 10th in the majors and better than players like Anthony Rizzo, Jose Abreu and Nelson Cruz.
Weighted on-base average, or wOBA, is another catch-all that measures a hitter’s offensive value, though it doesn’t translate that into runs. It is essentially based on the fact that, as Fangraphs says, “all hits are not created equal.” With wOBA, we can give those hits the weight they deserve, in a tidy three-digit number that anyone familiar with a triple-slash line can understand.
Ramirez racked up a .388 wOBA, good for 12th in the league. Players looking up at him on the wOBA leaderboard included Nolan Arenado, George Springer and Cody Bellinger … as well as Rizzo, Abreu and Cruz. And a lot of others. Twelfth is a pretty high standing.
Here’s the part where we get into ages. Ramirez is entering his age-25 season. He may have some natural growth in him, but even if his trajectory levels off this season, we should expect him to continue on it for the next four or five years. Donaldson, meanwhile, is 32 years old. He still has plenty of great baseball left in him, and if I miss out on Ramirez, I’ll be happy to snag him. He likely isn’t getting any better, though, and after being limited to 113 games due to injury last year, we have to wonder if age is starting to become a factor.
Ramirez has spent two full years in the majors. Those two years have resulted in a .315/.368/.523 slash line, with averages of 20 homers, 51 doubles, 96 runs, 80 RBI and 20 steals. Let’s wrap this up how we started, with a swing through the play index. You know how many other players have hit those thresholds over the last two seasons combined? One. Jose Altuve. Ramirez is a superstar.
Jon Tayler makes the case for Donaldson over Ramirez…
Here are the first numbers that should be on your mind when your pick comes up in the third round of your draft and Josh Donaldson remains on the board: .302/.410/.698. That’s what Donaldson, at that point amid one of the worst seasons of his career, hit from Aug. 1 through the end of the year—a torrid stretch that included 22 home runs (!) in 50 games. If you had Donaldson in your league last year and stuck through his first-half slump, he likely carried you to the playoffs, if not a championship. And he can certainly do it again.
Before singing Donaldson’s praises, though, it’s worth noting just how bad he was before that insane two-month hot streak. From April through July, he hit just .243/.364/.442 and had homered only 11 times in 63 games. He missed over a month from mid-April to late May, meanwhile, with a calf strain that likely affected him well into the All-Star break. His plate patience was nowhere to be found, he was striking out too much, and he wasn’t putting the ball in the air. Donaldson may have taken some players to the title game, but for others, he buried their hopes by June given what he cost on draft day.
There’s a risk always that you could get saddled with yet another slow start from Donaldson, especially given that he’s been sidelined lately with yet another calf injury. But keep in mind that, even with that atrocious performance in the first half, Donaldson still finished the year with a .270/.385/.559 line and 33 home runs—a dip from 2016’s numbers, for sure, but still stellar results. By wRC+, he was second among all third basemen with 450 or more plate appearances, with his 149 just a tick behind Justin Turner’s 151 (and, I should note, one point ahead of Jose Ramirez).
Consider, then, that even despite missing 40 games and some 200 plate appearances, Donaldson still put up that performance. In other words, those stats are basically his floor; if you draft Donaldson, you can pencil in those numbers. Sure, he’s unlikely to have another second half quite as ridiculous that again, but you also shouldn’t expect another brutal first half like that unless this calf injury lingers. And even at 33, his upside is undeniable.
Does that make him worth a third-round pick? That depends on how you feel about the options behind him. Donaldson is the last option in the elite third base tier that begins with Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado; after him, your next highest player at the hot corner is Houston’s Alex Bregman, with an ADP of 40. You can argue, and I’ll certainly hear you out, that Anthony Rendon at 50 is the true connoisseur’s choice if you don’t want to drop a high draft pick at third base. But if you pass up Donaldson, you’re putting all your eggs in that basket; if someone else snatches Rendon, then you’re waiting for Justin Turner (ADP: 65) in round five or six, and beyond him, you’re banking on a repeat season from Travis Shaw (87) or the potential of Rafael Devers (94).
Donaldson may feel like a boring choice, but he is safe even with last year’s injury issues. He also saves you from having to hope that Rendon and Turner don’t get taken before you can grab them. Ramirez will also force you to expend a higher draft pick; his current ADP of 21 is right at the end of round two. If you can wait for Donaldson instead, you can lock down an elite first baseman (Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman or Anthony Rizzo) or get the draft’s second best shortstop in Francisco Lindor where you would be getting Ramirez.
It’s hard to argue against Ramirez. He had the edge on Donaldson last year in average, on-base percentage, and steals, and his multi-position eligibility makes him a true fantasy stud. And if you’re in a keeper or dynasty league, then there’s no debate at all which player you would rather have. But the beauty of Donaldson is that, by draft position, he allows you to build a more balanced team but still provides top-notch production at his position. Ramirez is the sexier option, but don’t forget about Donaldson. Keep those second-half numbers in your head when you draft.