2015 Player Previews: OF Rajai Davis

The Tigers signed Rajai Davis as a free agent last off-season to provide a platoon option to complement left fielder Andy Dirks, and also to provide some much needed speed to a lineup that was severely lacking. The Tigers got a pleasant surprise, when Davis hit well over his career norms, all the while becoming an almost everyday player.

2014 In Review – Rajai Davis

2014 Stats
Detroit 134 494 1.4 102 .282 .320 .327 .320 .401 5% 15% 36/11 -11 -11

Davis was signed by the Tigers to a two-year, $10 million deal to fill a very clear role. Be the club’s fourth outfielder, platooning with Andy Dirks in left field and occasionally spelling Austin Jackson in center. Provide acceptable offense and defense, so that the club could fit him in the lineup without missing a beat. And whenever he got on base (or the Tigers could bring him off the bench and put him on base), to wreak some havoc, using his speed to generate extra bases for the club, given his stellar stolen base success rate.

How ironic it is that Davis emerged as an almost everyday player, getting substantial work in left field while Andy Dirks was injured, eventually ceding some of that time to J.D. Martinez before he became the starting center fielder when Jackson was traded. On the other hand, while still good at over 75%, he posted the second lowest stolen base success rate of his career.

Davis was more or less what was expected defensively, a below average defender, that was prone to mental lapses at times in the field. It meant that he might have ultimately cost the Tigers a win over the course of the season, but given he played far more than most expected him to, especially in the field, that can’t be hugely surprising, given his reputation coming in when he signed.

The big surprise was Davis’s offensive output. His 102 wRC+ was the first time his weighted runs created index was above average since 2009, back when Davis was with the Athletics. And he did that without any shocking or out of the ordinary offensive metrics. He hit for a slightly better average, more due to striking out less (15% vs. almost 19% in 2013 with the Jays) than an unsustainable average on balls in play. He swung for a bit more power, with an ISO of 0.12 as opposed to the 0.11 for his career average. And he actually even saw a slight drop in his walk rate. But those other things put together combined to make for a more productive offensive player, one that would be valuable with his bat and his legs.

2015 Player Projections

2015 Projections
Service PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 431 0.2 .268 .312 .310 .375 .309 -4
Steamer 419 0.6 .266 .310 .310 .377 .305 -2

The offensive projections are in agreement on Rajai – last year’s slight uptick will not continue in 2015, that a reduction in his average on balls in play along with a return to his career norm strikeout levels and a drop back down in his power numbers will return him to the player he was that the Tigers signed; a slightly below average offensive player.

Defensively, with fewer appearances they expect Davis to cost the team fewer runs defensively. Directionally however, they don’t expect too much dropoff from Davis as he’ll still be below average in the field.

And those numbers reflect that Davis is projected to only get about 400 plate appearances, nearly 100 less than what he saw in 2014, and very close to what he averaged with Toronto from 2011-2013.

The TigsTown Take

Davis had a bit of a surprise season for the Tigers last year, a welcome offensive burst from a player who signed for a relative bargain on the free agent market. He especially surged in the first half of the season when he was being used as the team’s everyday left fielder, with a bit of a power surge as well, hitting six home runs and 15 doubles, which was good for an extra-base hit once every roughly 11 at-bats.

His second half was more in line with what the team originally thought they were getting, and a good bet to be what he’ll provide the club this year. The big questions for Davis aren’t really about him, but more about other players. How the Tigers will split time between him and Anthony Gose in center field (which will likely be determined by how much Gose hits)? Will injuries, especially at DH/first base, necessitate more time for Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes at DH, putting Davis back in the field more?

It’s hard to answer those questions right now, but the upside is that if the Tigers can get more out of Gose and their heart of the order stays healthy, Davis can be more selectively used in favorable matchups, especially against left-handers, who he has a career .353 wOBA against. That could end up meaning Davis gets used less, but ends up more effective. It would be a good problem for the Tigers to have.

2015 Projections come from two different sources; ZiPS, and Steamer, both publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, and Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers.

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