If Rajai Davis’ role had been limited to the one the Tigers envisioned when they signed him during the offseason his grade would have been a solid a B+ or A-. Instead, the Tigers, out of desperation, handed him a much larger role—and in the process damaged themselves and Davis’s final mark for the season.
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A right-handed hitter with severe splits, Davis arrived in Detroit with a career slash line against left-handed pitchers of .304/.358/446/804. Against righties his OPS sunk to .645. The plan, of course, was to platoon Davis in left field with Andy Dirks. When Dirk went down, however, the Tigers simply started playing Davis against everyone, especially after the trade of Austin Jackson. True to form, he thrived against lefties, posting in 144 plate appearances a slash line well above his career norms (.356/.382/.557/939). Also true to form he stunk against righties. In 312 painful plate appearances he was very Romineesque, flirting with an OPS below .600.
The former Blue Jay was also expected to enhance the Tigers’ running game, which for years had been mostly dormant. On that front, Davis succeeded. He stole twice as many bases as anyone else on the Tigers, registering 36. Moreover, his adept ability to go from first to third represented a breath of fresh air on a club littered with lumberers. Davis would have been a dangerous weapon to deploy as a pinch runner late in tight games. Unfortunately, he was in the starting line up way too much.
Sep 9, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Rajai Davis (20) is tagged out by Kansas City Royals first basemanEric Hosmer
(35) in the sixth inning at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Despite his speed, no one expected sterling defense from Davis. And below average defense is what he delivered. Fangraphs had him at -11 in the outfield, and the eye test seemed to agree. He was inescapably part of the Tigers lousy outfield defense.
In most respects, Davis performed as advertised. He destroyed left-handed pitchers. He stole a bushel of bases. He took the extra base. Davis also struggled against righties, and his defense was a bit of an eyesore. That the Tigers couldn’t use Davis optimally—that they were forced to expand his role and thus suffer the consequences—is just another reason why the season fell short of its goals. Add it all up, and Davis gave the Tigers 1.4 WAR, barely above replacement level.
Davis’s overall grade is an indictment of the Tigers lack of depth and shallow farm system. He is at his best as a platoon player and late game pinch runner, although there was that one game in late June against the A’s. His unexpected grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to beat Oakland was clearly one of the season’s highlights.