Make the Case: Manny Machado vs Josh Donaldson

Joy R. Absalon - USA TODAY Sports

“Make the Case” is back to talk elite options at the third base position. Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado were two highly sought after players coming into 2017 and left owners pulling their hair out. Machado was barely inside the top 100 on ESPN’s player rater and Donaldson was outside the top 150.

Going into 2018 both these guys are primed to rebound in 2018. They are both top 30 players according to NFBC ADP. Which third baseman should you add heading into targets.


Manny Machado (BR)

In what I have called the battle of the bounce back third basemen (catchy right) it was a no-brainer for me to go with Machado over Donaldson. Let’s start by talking about their similarities; both are currently projected to hit second in their line-ups, both play in hitting friendly parks and both have very similar line-ups around them in that both teams are capable of explosive offence but also massive disappointment.

If I had to give the edge to one of them when it comes to line-ups I would give it to Machado simply because I think his group can stay a fraction healthier this year but it’s very close. In terms of projected runs scored, which is what I base my RBI and runs projections off, Fangraphs are projecting Baltimore for 5 runs per game and Toronto for 4.97 so not much to choose between them at all. Another similarity is the home runs and I expect both of them to be around the 35 range and likely both will fall within the 30-40 range. Average wise both are career 0.280 hitters and both are coming off bad years partly driven by a lower than usual BABIP. I think both of them will be right around those career numbers somewhere in the 0.275-0.285 range.

So that means we are now projecting similar runs, RBI (combined 180-200), HRs and average so where do they differ?
Well there are two main points that really drive Machado into a tier above Donaldson and none of them are ones that you would initially project but are differences that might make the all the difference to fantasy teams come the end of the year.

Firstly, Machado is seven years younger and yes granted age is just a number but while Donaldson is approaching the end of the recognised peak age Machado is just entering it. Both are in contract years and both should get handsome rewards next year but if Machado shows himself to be a true five tool talent this year he could get a monster number next year. That means I think he will be more incentivised to steal bases this year than he has been the last two years and we could see him reach double digit, possibly even approach the 20 he had in 2015.
Equally I think Baltimore are resigned to him leaving so I don’t think they will look to limit him on the base paths for fear of long term injury which is always a key part of a players steals. A final point about age and players peaking in their late 20s, if that is the case and Machado has room to grow as a hitter I see a situation where he can conceivably break the 40 home run barrier and go into the 45 range. That number of home runs is equally something I can see Donaldson doing but the point I’m making here is that both have the potential to go crazy with power this year and people shouldn’t underestimate Machado because his body-type is that of a slightly smaller stature than Donaldson’s.

The second reason I like Machado more is that he is going to move to shortstop this season and that means a couple of weeks into the season he will be 3B and SS eligible on all sites in all formats and that is huge. SS isn’t the chasm it once was but having that flexibility to move Machado around your line-up makes daily/weekly lineup decisions so much easier. It also makes playing the waiver wire a much better game as well because now you are looking at double the options on the waiver wire. Positional flexibility is often rubbished among the elite but it really shouldn’t be because you can draft this year knowing that as your draft develops you have so many options in those middle rounds and it prevents you from hesitating to pull the trigger on those players who slide at either SS or 3B. It is a massive advantage for fantasy owners throughout the season and one you would crazy not to take advantage of and it is enough to give Machado clear separation from Donaldson in this debate.

Blue Jays Josh Donaldson

Fred Thornhill – CP

Josh Donaldson (KR)

For me, Josh Donaldson is the guy i would want in this debate. While last year was seemingly a “down season” for Donaldson, the numbers were there over the second half to show things are just fine. He hit 33 homers with 78 RBI in only 496 ABs. His walk rate was in line with typical numbers and his K rate ballooned from past seasons.
Assuming his strikeout rate normalizes, to around 17% he should his average round to high .280’s or low .290’s. Combine that average with clear power potential of 40 homers, he should produce the runs and RBI totals to get him in the elite tier yet again.

There are some concerns with the Jays including health questions around Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, and Randal Grichuk. Also, can Justin Smoak can build on his break out from 2017? These issues may build some skepticism around Donaldson’s upside.

The only way I see Machado out production Donaldson this season is with speed. Machado has been so up and down with his stolen base totals that it’s hard to predict what he will do. The 20 steal season sure feels like the outlier and 11 total steals he had in three of the past four seasons helps to support that. Donaldson in fact has 15 steals over the past three seasons.
Even if you want to say that Donaldson and Machado are roughly the same player in 2018, the fact you get a rounds worth of value on Donaldson makes him the pick every time.
Ben and I would love to know your thoughts on this debate. Hit us up on Twitter, @60ftpodcast

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