8/29/2014 11:14 P.M. ET
Trout, Donaldson rival leaders on the WAR path
Advanced stat places A's third baseman slightly above Angels center fielder
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Josh Donaldson is no fan of WAR. The process, he maintains, is fine, but the name has to go.
"I think it's a terrible name for what it represents," the Athletics' skilled and athletic third baseman said Friday afternoon. "It's not about [wins above] replacement players. It's an equation of how you're affecting the game -- whether it's clutch hitting, defense, offensive production. It's a formula to say this is what a player brings to the table, his total game."
Donaldson hasn't come up with a more appropriate name for the equation, but he nodded enthusiastically when a visitor suggested Total Player Rating -- TPR.
"I like that," he said with a fist bump. "That's much better. Let's go with it."
Donaldson, according to Baseball-Reference.com, is the highest-rated Wins Above Replacement position player in the Major Leagues. He is giving the A's 7.1 wins, a half-tick more than two-time reigning American League WAR kingpin Mike Trout, who is at 6.5 for the Angels.
The overall WAR leader at the moment is the Dodgers' extraordinary Clayton Kershaw, who is delivering 7.3 wins above a normal pitcher.
Donaldson and Trout have more in common than high WAR ratings. They play the game with passion, every night. They watch each other with a high level of appreciation even as they are involved in spirited competition in another lively AL West race featuring the two best teams in the game in terms of winning percentage.
"He wants to win," Trout said when asked his impression of Donaldson. "We talk whenever I get to third base. I can tell he really is into the game; he knows what's going on out there. He's an impressive guy -- and he plays hurt, I can tell you that."
Informed of Trout's words, Donaldson called it "a big compliment," adding, "When you look at a lot of real good players, it's competing that comes first. Look at Trout. He's very gifted physically and loves to compete. At the plate, he knows how to think his way through at-bats. I know when I was 23 years old, I wasn't that patient. And two 30-homer seasons already, that speaks for itself."
The Angels moved up by two games with a 4-3 victory on Thursday night in 10 innings, Donaldson, 28, and Trout putting on a familiar show of excellence.
Donaldson hit a game-tying homer in the sixth against C.J. Wilson, doubled and walked twice. Trout had one hit and was robbed of another by Donaldson, who backhanded his eighth-inning bullet to turn what looked like a sure double into an out. It looked even bigger when Albert Pujols followed with a single.
Running down a shallow fly ball in right center off pinch-hitter Josh Reddick's bat in the seventh with his remarkable burst, Trout denied Donaldson a chance to score a go-ahead run from first after a two-out walk.
"I was scoring on that ball if Trout hadn't made the play," Donaldson said.
With the loss of Yoenis Cespedes in the swap that brought Jon Lester to Oakland, Donaldson's importance to the A's increased -- if that is possible. He was fourth, two spots behind runner-up Trout, in the AL Most Valuable Player Award balloting last season by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"You can affect the game in more than one way," Donaldson said. "It's more than how you swing the bat. A lot of people say I'm having a down year, hitting [.255]. At the same time, I have those 20 errors. But there's a lot more that goes into determining your value than your batting average and errors."
Donaldson's .255/.346/.470 line entering Friday is down from last year's .301/.384/.499, but he already has produced more homers (26 vs. 24) and is five shy of the 93 RBIs from his sensational 2013 season.
Trout (.291/.376/.561) also has sacrificed some average and OBP for power production, generating 30 homers and 94 RBIs -- a remarkable number for a guy who has hit second in all but two games this season.
With exceptional reflexes and quickness, Donaldson reaches balls other third basemen can't touch. Errors often come with a hurried throw after a great play.
The analytics community has been trying to devise accurate defensive measures, but the many variables involved -- notably the new trend of shifting infielders into unfamiliar places on the field -- make it a challenging if not impossible mission.
Donaldson and Trout both pass the eye test. They cover an uncommon amount of ground and make plays average defenders can't make.
In terms of WAR points, Donaldson gets 2.7 for his defense to go with 4.6 for his bat. Trout gets shortchanged with the glove, his minus-.02 rating dragging down his 7.0 offensive rating.
Trout had an AL-best 10.9 WAR in 2012. His 8.9 WAR in '13 led the league again and was matched by the Brewers' Carlos Gomez in the National League.
"I don't like to get caught up in numbers," Trout said. "I just love to play, compete. That's what it's all about."
In Donaldson, he has an AL West rival with a similar profile and attitude, a total player of the highest order by any name or initials.
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.