30 Tigers in 30 Days: #9 – Rajai Davis

Rajai Davis | Outfielder | #20

Age: 33

2014 salary: $5 million

2013 statistics: .260, .312, .375, 6 HR, 16 2B, 2 3B, 45 SB, 21 BB, 67 SO

Projected role: Platoon Left Fielder

Before I get started, please ignore those 2013 stats until you get to the third paragraph of the below preview. K, thanks.

At the outset of what has been dubbed the “worst winter ever” for weather in Detroit, the name “Rajai Davis” (pronounced RAHJ-ay; Spring Training is the perfect time to practice) likely warmed the hearts of Tigers fans significantly less than the type of off-season additions we’ve come to expect the deep pockets of our pizza-oven patriarch to procure. I’m not here to pepperoni-coat your expectations, but a look through the numbers leads me to believe that Mr. I’s right hand man may have delivered a signing that’ll have us happily going back for seconds, once we get a taste of his applicable skill set.

Don’t get it twisted. In his primary role of LF platoon partner to Andy, “The Neck” Dirks, Rajai will not be mistaken for, say, Alex Gordon – a stud left fielder plenty of Detroit fans would love for Dombrowski to slyly snatch from the clammy (I imagine) hands of KC’s Dayton Moore. Rajai Davis isn’t that player. But I’m genuinely excited for the player he is. Here’s why…

Davis hits lefties well and could have a hall of fame career delivering subs for Jimmy John’s after he’s done with baseball. For his career, Rajai’s line against LHP is .294, .354, .425. In 2013, that line against lefties was .319, .383, .474 with an .857 OPS (a bump of 78pts from his career OPS of .779). Of course there will be times when Davis bats against right-handed pitchers, but the majority of his appearances should come in situations that make these stats a relevant source of optimism. Also of note is that he’s apparently not been slowed by age. Davis had only 1 less stolen base last year (45) than he did in 2012 (46), despite over 100 less plate appearances. As it relates to potential spots for regressions, Rajai did see a slight bump in his BAbip (Batting Average on Balls in Play) vs. LHP last year, when compared to his career numbers. 2013 BAbip vs. LHB = .368, whereas Career = .341, so there’s that. But to me, all things considered, a 2014 BA near .290 and an OBP of .350+ with over 40 stolen bases is a reasonable expectation. And that SB number says a lot, especially on a team of cats only slightly more fleet of foot than Garfield (the Tigers swiped 35 bases in TOTAL last season). Again, keep in mind that we’ll see the best of him against lefties. His overall 2013 Toronto numbers of .260 (BA) and .312 (OBP) were heavily influenced by the fact that 232 of his 306 plate appearances were against right-handed pitchers, who he hits poorly. Before we move on to defensive commentary (of the fielding sort, not the “calmer than you are dude” sort, just to be clear), one last nugget of “oh, sweet”ness is that Rajai has a career (both LHP & RHP) BA of .291 against the rest of the teams in the AL Central, so we’ve got that going for us, which me and Carl Spackler both think is nice.

Fans sitting in left at Comerica (my favorite spot) while Rajai roams the corner may not be treated to what you’d call “spectacular” defense, but neither will their fists be frequently shaken toward the heavens in frustration. Put simply, Davis will be decent in left. As mentioned by Grey earlier this week on WOW, Andy Dirks was actually quite a solid left fielder in 2013, finishing second in UZR (a widely accepted advanced defensive stat) for the position and contending for a Gold Glove. For comparison’s sake, Rajai’s LF UZR last year was a -1.5 to Andy’s 10.4 (According to FanGraphs). Offering further context is Austin Jackson’s UZR in CF last year of -3.8. Again, Davis will be okay out there.

Rajai Davis is here to start and/or pinch hit against left-handed pitchers, bring a bonafide base-felon to the Tigers arsenal and make 1st base something closer to a “scoring position” than fans of this team have seen in quite some time. If you have your doubts, look no further than the kind of speed he already displayed in the first Grapefruit league game, stealing 2 bases and tagging up to score from 3rd on a shallow foul pop-out. He’s not Carlos Beltran but he’s also not that expensive (even though $5 mill isn’t “cheap”) and won’t likely regress too much this year. He’s not Alex Gordon but Dombrowski also didn’t have to give up anything to get him. We’ve all heard it and it seems to ring true – the Tigers are built to win now. In the end, I like the addition and I think Davis will compliment this team like a cool side of ranch on a fresh Hot ‘N Ready. Coming from a guy who’s eaten eleventy billion of them, that’s high praise.

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