A Fun Tidbit on Rajai Davis

According to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet, the Tigers have agreed to terms on a two year contract with Rajai Davis. Davis will give the Tigers a little outfield depth and form a nifty little platoon with Andy Dirks in left field. Davis isn’t a great hitter, but he’s historically done well against left-handers, and should be a nice complement to the underrated Dirks.

The Tigers aren’t really signing Rajai Davis for his bat, though. They’re signing him for his legs, because those are the reasons he’s still employed in Major League Baseball. They’re the reason he’s valuable.

Last year, two players in baseball racked up 10+ runs of value from baserunning: Jacoby Ellsbury (+11.4) and Davis (+10.2). But it’s pretty easy to make the case that Davis was baseball’s best baserunner, as he accumulated that value as a part-time player, coming to bat only 360 times all year. Ellsbury hit 636 times, for comparison. In fact, every other player who racked up at least +7 runs of baserunning value was basically an everyday player, so getting to +10 as a part-time guy is a pretty amazing accomplishment.

But this is basically the story of Davis’ career. Since his debut in 2006, he’s racked up nearly +42 runs of baserunning value despite only getting 500 plate appearances in a season in one of his eight seasons. Since he debuted, he’s 8th in baseball in baserunning value, and the seven guys ahead of him all got at least 1,000 more plate appearances than he did. Rajai Davis creates baserunning value at a full-time player clip while getting part-time player at-bats.

He’s going to be 33 next year, and this is the kind of thing you don’t expect to last forever, but Davis is showing no signs of slowing down and should be a valuable runner for the Tigers again in 2014. Even on days when a right-handed starter means that he begins the game on the bench, Davis can still be a real weapon, taking high leverage bases late in games. For a contender, this kind kind of minor thing can actually turn into a difference in wins, and Davis should be a nice little addition for the Tigers. He’s not a great hitter or fielder, but he excels at one thing that has some value, and he does it well enough that he’s carved out a nice little niche for himself in the game.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

25 Responses to “A Fun Tidbit on Rajai Davis”

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  1. JohnMel says:

    Davis has been a lot of fun to watch over the past few years with the Jays. He really gets into the heads of so many pitches when he is on base! Great 4th OF option and pick up for the Tigers. As a Jays fan I will sure miss him on the bases… but not so much the rest of his game.

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    • Barves says:

      Between his little league home run this year and his ability to steal third base consistently, he was super fun to watch.

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  2. Garold says:

    Rajai is going to be huge for the Tigers. He almost never gets thrown out and steals when everyone knows he’s going.

    As Dave points out, he’s not that bad of a bat against lefties and if he’s used in a platoon, can be really valuable.

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  3. Timeghoul says:

    He’s actually quite good against LHP, I’m surprised. If Dirks can bounce back from his knee injury that can be a pretty solid platoon in LF. Certainly better than paying Choo 120m.

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  4. Christian says:

    Haha, two mentions of “little” in the second sentence in an article about Rajai Davis. I feel like you’re above that type of superficial analysis.

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  5. Angry Detroiter says:

    Stop hating everything the Tigers do…oh wait…what’s that…two moves in a row you like for them…I’ll go hide in a corner.

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  6. astrostl says:

    How does a guy with these legs consistently put up negative defense in the outfield? Man.

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    • bdhudson says:

      Being quick doesn’t make up for bad first instincts

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      • DBA455 says:

        But can’t this be taught, to some degree? Not everyone is going to be an exceptional fielder, of course, but I have a hard time understanding how elite-level athleticism/speed plus world-class coaching doesnt’ add up to average or better OF defenese.

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        • vivalajeter says:

          A good coach can help, and so can repetitions, but a good chunk of it is natural. When I was younger, I could catch fly balls in the outfield but I couldn’t catch pop-ups in the infield. For whatever reason, I would backpedal to where it looked like it would land, and the ball would land 5 feet behind me. I’m not sure if it’s depth perception or something else, but my eyes didn’t communicate with my brain very well on pop-ups. To some people, they don’t even have to think about it – they just run to where the ball will land. To others, it just doesn’t work that way.

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        • Shane says:

          Also average is relative. It is not like he’s worse than a guy on the street, just other baseball players.

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        • Nathaniel Dawson says:

          As the ball’s going up, it typically has backspin on it, which tends to push it back toward the plate. As it’s coming down, that backspin actually starts pushing it toward the outfield, so if you don’t anticipate that, you end up with the ball coming down behind you.

          It’s the opposite with pop-ups hit almost straight up but a little behind the catcher. The spin on the ball pushes it towards the stands, but as it’s coming down, it drifts back toward the infield. That’s while you’ll often see catchers looking up at a popup behind home plate, then backpedaling toward the plate as the ball comes down to them.

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    • bdhudson says:

      See: Adam Jones

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    • siggian says:

      Family Circus style routes to the baseball…

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    • Timeghoul says:

      He’s rated as slightly above average by DRS. Great range, horrible arm apparently.

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      • Kevin says:

        The eyeball test disagrees with DRS, then. His first step, his routes were both awful the past few seasons in Toronto.

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  7. triple_r says:


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  8. bob says:

    It’s a great pick up for the Tigers if they use him properly and bat him vs LHP. He’s such a game changer on the bases. Tigers got a great bench player.

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  9. Franco says:

    No real opinion on this specific move, but whatever happened to the one year deal that most below average players used to sign? Seems like everyone is getting 2-10 year deals this offseason.

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    • rusty says:

      As I think Dave wrote about top-end contracts a couple weeks ago — salary inflation hasn’t been in terms of AAV, as much as it’s been in terms of added years. It seems like it’s playing out lower in the market (Davis, Jason Vargas) as well.

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    • rotowizard says:

      I think the key word phrase there was “below average”. Davis is certainly above.

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  10. Mike P says:

    Now I know why DD and Ausmus were talking up Dirks yesterday at the Winter Meetings.

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  11. brendan says:

    davis was electrifying for the As in 2009 for the As. .305 .360 .423 in 430 PA playing CF -> 4WAR!

    unfortunately, he just doesn’t have the OBP skills vs. RHP to be a starter. His BABIP came back to earth, and he was just avg again. what a year though.

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