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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