2014 Player Previews: OF Rajai Davis

A struggling season from Andy Dirks and a team without much speed on the base paths resulted in the Tigers signing free agent outfielder Rajai Davis to a two-year deal to share time in left and provide depth elsewhere. What can the Tigers expect from the speedster from Toronto and formerly with Oakland?

Rajai Davis 2013 In Review

2013 Stats
Toronto 360 1.2 .305 .260 .308 .313 .312 .375 19% 45/6 6 -6

The Tigers decided to make a move to improve their left field production, but the only noticeable place where Davis is heads and shoulders above Dirks is on the base paths. His triple slash line was remarkably similar to that of Andy Dirks, and his 2013 season was closely in line with his career production. And, at 33 years of age, is well past the point in his career where a surge in production could be expected.

With limited power, and not a high walk rate, Davis's ability to get on base is heavily dependent on his batting average. He hit a respectable .260 in 2013, but has only surpassed .300 in one season (2009), and both his BAbip and expected BAbip were in line, and near his career averages. Basically, what the Blue Jays got in 2013 is a reasonable expectation for what the Tigers could get in 2014.

But, the speed. Davis swiped 45 bases in limited playing time, while being caught just six times. For those fans that missed Quintin Berry on the base paths on 2013, Davis will be a welcome addition to the club, adding a dimension that was sorely lacking. Despite not even qualifying for the batting title, Davis was third in MLB in stolen bases, and just six behind stolen base king Jacoby Ellsbury.

Defensively, Davis has been hit or miss in the advanced metrics, showing a negative defensive value, but registering a positive in defensive runs saved. From the scouts view, he's a mixed bag, utilizing his speed to his advantage, but lacking in the defensive instincts that makes a player above average in the field. That nets out to an outfielder that will make some plays, but also be responsible for a few boneheaded plays as well.

2014 Player Projections

2014 Advanced Projections
Service PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 410 0.3 .257 .302 .301 .360 .300 1
Steamer 370 0.3 .258 .308 .307 .373 .299 -7
Oliver 600 1.4 .262 .311 .313 .371 .303 -7

The projections are almost unanimous, and not in a good or optimistic way for Tigers fans. Given him moving out of his early 30's and into his mid-30's, there's little reason to expect a jump in production, and if anything, a drop is likely, and the projections take that into account here, with a wOBA right around .300, and very little value added via WAR.

There's also a belief among two of the three that his defense will become decidedly negative in 2014, an unlikely but not completely unreasonable expectation, given the possibility of the deterioration of his speed skill.

His stolen base expectations are still high, with both of the services that account for his part-time status with the club in his appearances to land him at right around 40 bases stolen. But, they both also forecast an increase in the number of times he's caught; again commiserate with the potential for a decline in his speed.

Overall, it's not a rosy outlook for the 33-year old speedster. They're basically projecting replacement level offense from him (not an encouraging assertion given that the Tigers signed him to boost to the offensive productivity in left), along with average to below average defense, but a threat on the bases (a skill susceptible to decline with age).

Had the Tigers signed Davis solely to be a bench outfielder that could be used frequently as a pinch runner and occasional spot starter, this move would likely be far more encouraging than it currently stands – but the projections question whether or not Davis will be able to be much of a net benefit playing frequently.

2014 Projections come from three different sources; ZiPS, Steamer, and Oliver, all publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers, and Oliver Projections from Brian Cartwright.

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