John McDonald report card
John McDonald the baseball player is a lot of things. For instance, John McDonald is one of the more statistically inconsequential pieces of the D-backs 2011 season, playing in just 19 games for Arizona. John McDonald is one of the worst hitters in Major League Baseball, with his wRC+ of 50 ranking as the 12th-worst among big-leaguers who received at least 200 plate appearances in 2011, and that isn't far off from his career mark of 56. John McDonald is the owner of a mere 2.2 career fWAR and 3.1 bWAR in 884 games. John McDonald was acquired by Arizona to be a backup shortstop to Willie Bloomquist, and was something of an afterthought in a trade of two teams' struggling second basemen. However, John McDonald is also one of my personal favorite players, even after watching him play in Sedona Red for just 19 games.
This statement, of course, begs the question: why John McDonald? The answer is simple. Show me a big-league position player who can hit a double, draw a walk, steal a base, or hit a home run, and I'll show you 99% of big-league position players capable of doing each of those exact same things. Heck, Cody Ransom did all four of those things in just 12 games and 37 plate appearances for Arizona last year. Sure, some do them more frequently than others, and those that do get their fair share of appreciation for it, but even if the positive outcomes occur more often, they're still pretty much the same positive outcomes.
If you give a child some ice cream, he or she will be exhilarated at first. If you give him more ice cream that same night, he or she will still be happy, but less so than the first time you gave him ice cream. If you constantly force-feed your child ice cream for the rest of the night, he or she will eventually get bored with your ice cream and want to go on a roller coaster. Offensive production - hits, doubles, walks, stolen bases, home runs, et al - is the position player equivalent of ice cream. McDonald is Arizona's personal roller coaster.
In just 19 games with Arizona, McDonald made some of the most spectacular defensive plays I've seen on a big-league infield. They're the kind of plays that most players in baseball can't make, no matter how many tries they get at it. Defensive plays like, for instance, some of these:
Throwing out the speedy Cameron Maybin from the hole:
Getting Orlando Hudson, who's not anywhere near as slow as he is made to look in this video, out by a full step on a throw from the hole:
That is one delightful roller coaster. Now, of course, anytime you look for a favorite veteran bench player to attach yourselves to in an incomprehensible, emotional way, it's always nice to seek out the prerequisite level of "the veteran hustle." Thankfully for me, McDonald fulfills the desired quota. Take this play, where McDonald steamrolls into Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon at second base, punishing the Dodgers' rookie shortstop for being so careless as to bobble a potential double play ball and giving Gordon no chance to salvage the play:
Spectacular defensive plays? Check. The veteran hustle? Check. The only thing that's missing from instant Dan-favorite (get it?! - Dan-favorite) status is knowing that he's a genuinely likable guy, perhaps with a great story to pull on your heartstrings.
Don't worry, there's that too. Despite being a relatively-unheralded utility player on an American League team, I was vaguely familiar with John McDonald prior to him joining the D-backs, as he was a part of perhaps one of the most touching stories I've ever read about not just a baseball player, but any human being - the kind of story that makes you really wonder whether or not the world is just a bunch of people randomly floating about, or if there's real purpose and direction to it all, even in sadness.
Back in June 2010, while McDonald was with the Blue Jays, he left the team for 11 days while on the Bereavement List to be with his father, who was ill. His father passed away during that time, and McDonald re-joined the team on Sunday, June 20 - Father's Day. What happened next is one of those moments that simply transcends baseball, in a way that D-backs fans who watched Ian Kennedy pitch against Philadelphia after the birth of his first child might already vaguely understand. Here's the video (details of the story courtesy of Peter Abraham, one of the better writers in the business):
If that doesn't make you like the guy, then I'm fairly certain that you're incapable of human compassion. If you want more heart-warming, here's McDonald's post-game interview from that special day, which sealed the deal on my unrelenting affection for him:
So, yes, John McDonald is one of my favorite D-backs, for what he brings to the field and for appearing to be one of the most likable, genuine, good guys in the game. You can argue that his bat is atrocious and he didn't deserve the two-year, $3MM contract Arizona gave him this off-season for his age-37 and age-38 seasons, and that's all fine and good. I'd counter by saying that $1.5MM per year doesn't get you much these days, particularly with the rise in minimum salary, and that McDonald's presence is all the more important with an extreme ground-baller in Trevor Cahill joining the D-backs rotation. But whether or not McDonald technically provides $3MM worth of on-field value doesn't matter as much to me as it would with most players Arizona might acquire - regardless of what happens, I'll still love the fact that he's a Diamondback, and I'll love rooting for him. Two more years? Sign me up.
Grade: C+ for on-field contributions, A+ for making the games that much more exciting to watch.
As for the rest of the 'Pit:
It's really difficult to give a grade to McDonald, based on less than 20 games for Arizona. He hit .169 for the Diamondbacks, but his fielding was slick, so it seems he lived up perfectly to his reputation of being "all glove, no bat". That's probably not such a bad thing with a groundballer like Trevor Cahill now a key part of the rotation; as someone already suggested, I'd not be surprised to see McDonald be Cahill's personal infielder. I note that last season, he played more at third than anywhere else, and it will be interesting to see where Kirk Gibson chooses to use him in 2012.
I guess, I don't really know. Like Jim mentioned, he really didn't play in that many games. But when he did play, he was unmistakably John McDonald. The team traded for a veteran shortstop who could field, but provided very little offense and, lo and behold, they got a veteran shortstop who could field, but provided very little offense. Overall, he fit right in between Cody Ransom and Willie Bloomquist on the list of "Best Diamondback Shortstops of 2011," which is really just another way of saying he was thoroughly mediocre.