Josh Donaldson’s Other Amazing Skill

Josh Donaldson is a remarkable player. You probably already knew that, given that he’s the reigning AL MVP. But when you think of Josh Donaldson, you probably think of him crushing a baseball, as he’s turned himself into one of the best hitters in baseball. Or maybe you think of him making an amazing play in the field, as he’s also one of the best defensive third baseman in the game.

But here’s a thing that maybe you did not know: Josh Donaldson is also one of the best base stealers in baseball. He’s not a high-volume base stealer — he’s never stolen more than eight bases in a season — so we’re not exactly talking about Billy Hamilton here, but no one in baseball picks their spots to run better than Donaldson.

On the year, Donaldson has stolen five bases in five attempts. Last year, he stole six bases in six attempts. In 2014, he stole eight bases in eight attempts. You have to go back to June 3rd of 2013 to find the last time Josh Donaldson was thrown out trying to steal a base. Since then, he’s successfully stolen 22 bases in a row.

Over the last three years, no other player with double-digit steal attempts has been even close to as efficient in thievery. Here are the highest success rates among players with at least 20 stolen base attempts over the last three calendar years.

Best SB%, Last Three Years
Player Steals SB Attempt SB%
Josh Donaldson 22 22 100%
Shane Victorino 23 24 96%
James Jones 28 30 93%
Michael Brantley 51 55 93%
Craig Gentry 37 41 90%
Brock Holt 23 26 88%
Drew Stubbs 42 48 88%
Chris Owings 34 39 87%
Jayson Werth 18 21 86%
Leury Garcia 18 21 86%

If we used a lower threshold for SB attempts, Jackie Bradley Jr would show up here, as he’s 18 for 18 in stolen base attempts in his career. But we didn’t, so, sorry JBJ.

Shane Victorino is out of baseball because he can’t really hit anymore. James Jones and Leury Garcia are in Triple-A because they could never hit. Craig Gentry, Brock Holt, Drew Stubbs, and Chris Owings are part-time players who are around in part because of their speed, so this is a specific skill that helps keep them in the league. The only everyday players on this list are Donaldson, Brantley, and the almost-as-surprising Jayson Werth. And thanks to his perfect success rate, Donaldson stands above the rest.

This doesn’t make him the best base stealer in baseball, of course. That probably goes to a guy like Jarrod Dyson, who has managed to steal 101 bases at an 85% success rate over the last three years despite everyone knowing he’s running when he’s inserted as a pinch runner. Speed guys like Dyson don’t get to take advantage of the element of surprise in the way a guy like Donaldson does, and if Donaldson ran more often, he’d certainly get thrown out at a much higher rate than guys who run at high frequency.

But since June 3rd of 2013, Donaldson has used the element of surprise perfectly. It’s been more than three years since the last time he got nailed on the bases, and being able to take extra is one of the small things that adds up to help make the Blue Jays third baseman truly one of the very best all-around players in the game.

We hoped you liked reading Josh Donaldson’s Other Amazing Skill by Dave Cameron!

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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