The Detroit Tigers had an American League low 35 stolen bases in 2013. New Tigers left fielder Rajai Davis had 45 of his own with the Toronto Blue Jays. The year before he had 46. Of course, base running isn't just about the stolen base stat, and first-year Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is as happy with the extra 90 feet taken during Wednesday's Grapefruit League opener against the Braves as he is about the pressure Davis puts on the opposing battery any time he's on base.
"I think because of (Davis') speed and his aggressiveness it'll energize and be infectious," Ausmus said. "It can have that effect."
Still, it's hard to deny just what kind of impact a single player can have. SB Nation's Blue Jays blog, Bluebird Banter, wrote about Davis' time in Toronto:
In a very literal sense Rajai Davis created every once of positive value that the Blue Jays had on the bases in the last three years. In terms of stolen bases alone Davis managed a 80.6% success rate, compared to a 69.9% rate for the rest of the team. The comparison between Davis and his teammates is even more astounding looking at last years statistics in particular.
With Davis, the Blue Jays were 10th in stolen bases in baseball and eighth in Fangraphs' baserunning stat (BsR). Without him, they fell to 22nd in the game and 21st in BsR, their number falling from a positive to several runs below average.
"You don't really have to go out and hit home runs to score runs when you have speed," Davis said. "This way when you have a guy who can steal bases, who can get 90 feet closer, a lot of times it's just manufacturing runs. And manufacturing it some times a lot easier than hitting home runs."
The Tigers were last in MLB in BsR, coming in nearly 20 runs worse than average. For a team with power that had among the highest averages and on-base percentages in the league in 2013, the Tigers never seemed to live up to the run-scoring potential seemed to have. Players like Davis, as well as Ian Kinsler, whose BsR was about even in 2013 after several years of being above average, can help mitigate the loss of power that comes with the trade of Jhonny Peralta and Prince Fielder.
"I think after you've played for awhile, you come to realize" the importance of baserunning, Ausmus said. "You realize what a difference base running can make over the course of a season."
Ausmus isn't necessarily going to be calling for the steal at every opportunity. Those extra 90 feet can come at any time. "Quite frankly the way Victor Martinez ran the bases yesterday, and he's the opposite of Rajai Davis, can have an effect. Victor was very aware on what was going on around him and advanced 90 feet twice. That's huge. That's what we're talking about. Getting that extra 90 feet. It doesn't always have to be a ball in the dirt or tagging up on a fly ball."
"Having speed helps but I think your approach is still the same," Ausmus said. "You still want to run the bases in a similar fashion. Players' abilities may dictate what degree it will become successful as a philosophy, but the speed of a player doesn't change the approach of the player. In terms of base running. Base stealing it changes a little bit."