MLB Notebook: A's have dynamic duo on left side
Lowrie, Donaldson dominated with extra-base hit numbers for Oakland in 2013
By the conclusion of the 2013 season, 17 players had qualified for the batting title while playing at least 75 percent of their games at shortstop. Among them, no one had more extra-base hits than Oakland's Jed Lowrie, whose 62 made him the first Athletics player to lead all Major League shortstops in the category since Eric McNair accomplished the feat in 1932. Lowrie's total was the second highest on his team, as his teammate at third base, Josh Donaldson, collected 64 on his way to finishing fourth in American League MVP Award voting.
For all Major League third basemen in 2013, three other AL third basemen -- Evan Longoria, Miguel Cabrera and Manny Machado -- surpassed that total of 64. For Donaldson and Lowrie, 2013 represented a breakout year of sorts: not only for what they did as individuals, but also for what their offensive numbers meant when considering the left side of any team's infield.
For Lowrie, much of his impressive extra-base hit total sprang from his 45 doubles, which indeed stands out. In the Athletics' franchise history, only McNair, with his 47 two-base hits in 1932, has had more from the shortstop position, and since 1901, the total of 45 ties Lowrie with eight others for the 23rd most for the position (Boston's Nomar Garciaparra leads all candidates with 56 in 2002). Add in two triples, 15 homers, 113 singles and 50 walks, and Lowrie's 122 OPS+ was the fourth highest for the position in franchise history, and the highest for an A's shortstop since Miguel Tejada turned in a 128 in 2002. In all, the 29-year-old had a legitimate case for an AL Silver Slugger: a proposition buoyed by second-place finishes among all Major League shortstops in OPS+, wRC+ and wOBA (second to Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki in all three categories), and further supported by first-place finishes among the competition in times on base and extra-base hits.
If Donaldson had a shallower claim as the AL's best offensive player at third base, that case had less to do with his numbers and more to do with the competition from the otherworldly Cabrera. For Donaldson, a full-time player for the first time in his career, enjoyed a brilliant season with the bat. Aside from the 64 extra-base hits (37 doubles, three triples and 24 homers), there were the 76 walks that helped contribute to a .301/.384/.499 line that translated into a 148 OPS+.
For some perspective, consider that:
• Donaldson's 148 OPS+ (second highest among qualifying MLB third basemen in 2013) was the highest for an A's third baseman since Sal Bando posted a 150 in 1973, and it comes out to be the seventh highest in team history for the position (behind marks from only Bando and Hall of Famer Home Run Baker).
• Donaldson's offensive WAR (second highest among MLB third basemen in 2013) is calculated to be the seventh highest ever for an Athletics third baseman, with only seasons by Bando and Baker coming out ahead.
• Donaldson's wRC+ (second highest among MLB third basemen in 2013) comes out fifth highest for the franchise's third basemen, with only seasons from Baker and Bando looking better.
• Donaldson became just the 33rd third baseman since 1901 (and one of two in 2013, along with Cabrera) to have collected as many as 64 extra-base hits and at least 76 walks in a season. He was only the second -- after Bando in 1973 -- to do it with the Athletics.
Team 3B (XBH) SS (XBH) 1998 Red Sox John Valentin (68) Nomar Garciaparra (80) 2001 Athletics Eric Chavez (75) Miguel Tejada (65) 2002 Athletics Eric Chavez (68) Miguel Tejada (64) 2003 Athletics Eric Chavez (73) Miguel Tejada (69) 2003 Red Sox Bill Mueller (69) Nomar Garciaparra (78) 2004 Yankees Alex Rodriguez (62) Derek Jeter (68) 2006 Mets David Wright (71) Jose Reyes (66) 2013 Athletics Josh Donaldson (64) Jed Lowrie (62)
With Lowrie and Donaldson leading the way from their spots on the left side of the Athletics' infield and helping their club to 96 victories and a second straight AL West crown, Oakland finished the campaign third in the Majors in extra-base hits, the club's highest ranking in the category since 1933. Not even the bashiest of Bash Brother teams climbed so high. And in posting the extra-base numbers they did, Donaldson and Lowrie made a claim that few other third base-shortstop combinations can boast.
Prior to the 2013 season, the modern era of baseball history produced 17 teams that saw a shortstop and a third baseman each produce at least 62 extra-base hits in a season. As with many items of this kind, the representatives are clustered within seasons of a more recent vintage, with only one -- the Indians' Lou Boudreau and Ken Keltner in 1941 -- appearing from 1901-95. For a while, this accomplishment was exclusive to the AL, with all 11 of the pairings from '96-2004 taking place in the Junior Circuit.
Then the NL completely took over, producing the only additional submissions to this group from 2006-08 (which was the last season before 2013 to see it happen). And with Donaldson and Lowrie joining, they became one of eight combinations to amass these numbers in a season in which their team also claimed a postseason spot.
Outside of the heavy Athletics influence portrayed on this smaller list of eight, the presence of Bill Mueller and Garciaparra and the 2003 Red Sox make for an interesting comparison to Oakland's 2013 submission. In that season a decade ago -- a year in which Boston took home 95 wins and the AL Wild Card -- the team amassed an MLB record 649 extra-base hits. Garciaparra led the way with his 78, giving him (at the time) the 16th most ever for a shortstop. Nomar was one of three Bostonians to have at least 70 and one of nine to have at least 50, with those nine the most ever for a team. At third, Mueller claimed a batting title (hitting .326) and amassed the third-highest total of extra-base hits ever for a Red Sox third baseman, behind the 79 from Adrian Beltre in 2010 and the 70 by Wade Boggs in 1987. With 147 of the team's 649 extra-base hits, Garciaparra and Mueller contributed 22.7 percent of the record-setting total.
In terms of percentages, Donaldson and Lowrie actually made a larger imprint on their team in 2013 than did Mueller and Nomar in 2003, with Oakland's third base-shortstop combo this past season holding steady at 24.6 percent of the team's extra-base hit total. That 24.6 percent is behind the respective percentages offered by three previous iterations of A's combinations on the list of eight, as Chavez and Tejada cleared 25 percent in 2001 and '02 and topped 27 percent in 2003. But for all of their historic work from 2001-03, Chavez and Tejada combined for just one All-Star appearance (Tejada in 2002) over those years; in 2013, neither Donaldson nor Lowrie was part of the AL squad. Perhaps with similar work in 2014, that honor can be part of a growing pair of resumes.
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.