Donaldson's expectations remain the same

Donaldson's expectations remain the same

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TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson is a perennial contender for the American League Most Valuable Player Award and he's proven to be one of the most durable sluggers in the game. When it comes to his expectations for 2017, they should be the same as they always are.

Donaldson didn't receive the same kind of MVP attention in 2016 as he did the year before, but the Florida native still finished fourth in voting. It was another banner season that saw him hit .284 with 37 homers, 99 RBIs and a team-leading .953 OPS. Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista might have been here longer but Donaldson was the face of this offense.

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There's no reason to expect anything different this season. Donaldson has appeared in at least 155 games during each of the last four years, averaged 33 home runs and 103 RBIs over that span and has become one of the game's biggest stars. He is a two-time Blue Jays Player of the Year as voted by the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, and barring something unforeseen he will likely be a three-time winner.

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If one was grasping at straws for something to be concerned about it can be found with Donaldson's ailing hip. Toronto didn't reveal exactly what happened to Donaldson but he dealt with soreness during various times in 2016, and appeared to be particularly hampered in mid-August, and again in September.

According to Statcast™, the lowest exit velocity off Donaldson's bat came during the week of Aug. 14. That was around the same time he sat for three days after aggravating the hip in New York. The reason behind the diminished velocity can be directly tied to Donaldson's injury because he said he felt the most pain while contorting his hips during his batting stance and swing.

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Donaldson hit just .232 with three home runs over the final month of the season, and exit velocity again was a factor. Donaldson averaged 93.1 mph for the year but the week of Sept. 4 he was barely above the league average at 90.4 mph. He dipped below the league average at 87.7 during the week of Sept. 18. Other than a 3-day absence in mid-September, Donaldson played through the pain and didn't really get the break he needed until the days off between playoff series.

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The Blue Jays haven't said much about the injury other than Donaldson didn't require surgery and will be at full strength for Spring Training. He's spent a lot of time this offseason working out with the club's high-performance staff in Florida, and that should help his mobility and range in the field and at the plate. The hip is not expected to be a factor in 2017 but that, or any type of injury, is the only thing that will slow him down.

Even with Encarnacion long gone Donaldson still has plenty of protection around him in a lineup that also features Bautista, Kendrys Morales and Troy Tulowitzki. Donaldson might move from No. 2 in the lineup to No. 3 but everything else should remain the same, including his level of performance. From a Blue Jays' perspective, it pretty much has to.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.