Aug 21, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Eduardo Nunez (26) bobbles the ball at second base as Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Rajai Davis (11) steals the base during the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Rajai Davis Signing Creates Incredible Platoon Opportunity in Detroit's Left Field

Past incarnations of the Detroit Tigers seemed pretty reliant on every day production from specific positions: Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera famously manned their spots day in and day out, as did Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson. What’s strange is that although it’s admirable for very talented players to earn their pay and play every day, using a platoon to capitalize on specific strengths hasn’t really been something the Tigers have relied on for the past several years.

Yes, we don’t want Alex Avila to bat against left-handers, but when it comes to catchers one has to remember that they need more days off than usual. Really, the last platoon I remember Detroit using effectively was when Wilson Betemit and Brandon Inge split time at third base in 2011. Otherwise, it’s been a pretty light time-sharing team.

With the recent signing of Rajai Davis the Tigers can platoon the speedy spark plug with perennially underrated Andy Dirks in a timeshare that seems like a match made in Motown. As Matt Snyder and I discussed in the comments of my free agent outfielder piece yesterday (in which I dramatically, and incorrectly, undersold Dirks as a regular in left), outside of last year Dirks has been very effective against right-handed pitchers to the tune of a 104 wRC+ and a .745 OPS overall in his career. Davis is the perfect compliment in this scenario, with a 137 wRC+ last year against lefties, and a .779 OPS for his career.

There will be some complaining about this, with fans lamenting the fact that there should be an every-day solution in left. Well, why? What’s so wrong with a platoon?

Recently, teams have been using platoons more and more effectively. The Rays are notorious for their ability to exploit matchups and scenarios with platoons, including the maximizing of former Tiger Matt Joyce. The Pirates have been experimenting with platoons for a defensive edge, and the Rangers have been rotating David Murphy and Craig Gentry in when the matchup dictates. Chris Denorfia became a 3.9 WAR player as a platoon outfielder, and the Red Sox won a World Series last year rotating Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes.

Everything that has happened this season has shown a complete organizational commitment to doing things in a different way – Dave Dombrowski is revamping the roster into one that can compete with the above-mentioned teams by emulating them, and with Brad Ausmus in place the Tigers should be run in a different way than in the past several years. When faced with the decision of “Adapting or Die,” this organization chose to adapt.

Personally, I couldn’t be happier with all these moves, including this one. The Tigers are now an exciting, fast team that should take full advantage of Comerica Park’s expanses. Davis, who I touted as a free agent pick up as early as this past Halloween on It Is What It Is on ESPN 96.1 (at the 34-minute mark), will be such a welcome addition, not just in a platoon that will benefit this team tremendously, but as one of the most unheralded moves that will pay off in the end.

This team is really going to be entertaining in 2014.

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Tags: Andy Dirks Boston Red Sox Detroit Tigers Rajai Davis Tampa Bay Rays

  • chrisHannum

    Dirks’ splits are trivial – I think he’s either barely good enough to play full time or not good enough to platoon. He seems better than Rajai Davis, though.

  • Will Snyder

    We never know for sure whether managers and GMs really work together on putting together a roster, but I gather the strong hint that Dombrowski consults with his manager rather than just putting together a roster on his own. I say that because Jim Leyland has shown public disdain for small-ball. Thus, the Tigers were a bunch of boppers. Now,I’m assuming Brad Ausmus may have a radically different view on how to win games, thus, an about-face on how the Tigers may score runs in 2014. The Tigers finally may understand they don’t have a RF overhang to bail them out anymore.

    • chrisHannum

      They did score a lot of runs last year… It sounds like what they’re hoping to do this year is score fewer runs, but be more likely to score them at the right times.

      • Will Snyder

        C’mon Chris. Does a team WANT to score less runs? I don’t even think Prince—to cite one player— WANTED to score less runs with some of his base-running blunders of the last two years. But it does boil down to lack of fundamentals by the Tigers. Leyland discourages stolen bases when Miggy and Prince are up because “it would distract them.” How condescending…and insulting. In Game Two of the 2012 Series, fundamentals—or lack of them—played a huge part in the most pivotal play of the game. The Giants had a perfect relay to nip Prince and Prince wasn’t helped by Peralta not standing in visual range of Prince to encourage a slide AWAY from Posey. And then, of course, the belly flop at third base against the Red Sox. You can disbelieve it if you wish, but most of America was asking, “THIS team wants be world champs?” I could do takeoffs on Tolstoy to document the numbers of times Tiger runners just gazed longingly at second base when fly balls were hit to the center field warning track and did not tag when there were less than two out. I don’t care if this team loses every exhibition game next spring. Ausmus must spend time re-teaching fundamentals to guys who should know better.

        • chrisHannum

          Everyone wants runs, but they can’t have everything they want. They might have to sacrifice them for something else – like success in close games or financial concerns. As for Leyland and steals – it’s probably more that you don’t want a guy getting thrown out right before Cabrera launches one into the upper deck.

          • Will Snyder

            Again, this is n-e-g-a-t-i-v-e thinking. In Jackson’s first year in Detroit, he stole 28 sacks. Every year since, he’s gotten worse and worse. How does someone go from 28-to-8? Last year, he hit an even .300 and he had only 12 SBs. Ridiculous. I’m hoping Vizquel will get him straightened out. He can run like a deer in CF and yet he’s almost as bad as Gus Zernial on the bases. No excuses. This is on Leyland.

          • chrisHannum

            I’m a lot more concerned about the team’s ability to go 1st to 3rd, etc… than to steal bases – but I agree with you that it’s an area that needed big improvement, both from the personnel on the field and from the coaching staff. The Tigers had 4 of the very worst baserunners in the game last year, 2 are gone and Cabrera hopefully won’t be quite so bad once he’s healthy. Martinez is still going to be an absolute slug, but you can’t have everything.