Note: We're making the case for each of the five top AL MVP contenders today. Here's Robinson Cano and now Josh Donaldson.
1. Baseball Reference WAR leaders: Mike Trout 9.1, Donaldson 8.1, Robinson Cano 7.4, Miguel Cabrera 7.3, Chris Davis 6.1. FanGraphs WAR leaders: Trout 10.2, Donaldson 7.7, Cabrera 7.7, Davis 6.4, Cano 6.0. So by WAR, Donaldson is clearly a strong and viable candidate, even if he hasn't received the same attention throughout the season as the others.
2. The A's have clinched the AL West. The Angels are under .500. An MVP should arguably come from a playoff team -- or at least a team in contention. The Angels have been dead since April.
3. Games in September may not matter more, although most people say they do, but they at least have a certain intensity to them that maybe games in April and May don't. The A's began the month in second place but won the division in part because Donaldson has hit a monster .389/.500/.708 in September, with five home runs, eight doubles, 15 RBIs and 17 runs in 20 games. Overall, he's hitting .306/.388/.511, with 24 home runs, 92 RBIs and 86 runs, ranking fifth in the AL in OPS+ and runs created.
4. Where would the A's be without Donaldson? With Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes both having big declines from last season, the only other Oakland players with a 4-WAR season are Bartolo Colon (4.9) and Coco Crisp (4.1). Donaldson has easily been the best player on a team without a lot of star power.
5. Defense matters. One reason Donaldson's WAR is better or equal to Cabrera and Davis is defense. He's at +12 defensive runs saved while Cabrera is -17 at the same position. That's a 29-run difference right there. Davis is -7 DRS at first base.
6. Ballparks. Donaldson plays in a tough park for hitters, especially for average due to all the foul territory in Oakland. He's hitting .321/.410/.500 on the road, the fifth-best road batting average in the majors and the seventh-best wOBA.
7. He's hitting .344 with runners in scoring position and .318 in "late and close" situations.
8. Baseball-Reference also keeps track of how players hit in high-leverage situations, when the game is closest. Donaldson's .394 average is third-best in the majors (minimum 60 PAs) and higher than Cano (.351), Davis (.342), Cabrera (.326) and Trout (.258).
9. Against the Rangers, the A's rival for the AL West crown, Donaldson hit .343/.451/.582.
10. In fact, Donaldson has hit much better against good teams than bad teams: A .993 OPS against teams over .500 and an .818 OPS against teams under .500. You gotta love a guy who raises his game against the toughest competition.