When the Tigers signed Rajai Davis this offseason, many Tiger fans were puzzled. Shin-Soo Choo was still available, and many (myself included) hoped the Tigers would dole out another oversized paycheck to land him. Many did not like the fact that Detroit was content to settle for a platoon player, rather than pursue an every-day option in the outfield. Many were concerned with Davis' career numbers vs. RHP and his lack of power potential.
Truth be told, Rajai Davis was my second choice for the Tigers to sign as an outfielder. I wanted Choo, no doubt, but I also realized that Choo might not have been the most realistic choice considering his price tag. Davis seemed like a more realistic option. I liked Rajai Davis so well that I suggested to more than one of my friends that the Tigers ought to sign him. They didn't always agree with me, especially when I suggested that the Tigers should not only sign Davis, but that they should play him every day.
The Tigers didn't really agree with me either. They ended up signing Davis with the intention of having him split time in left field with Andy Dirks. Andy Dirks' lower back had other plans -- plans involving surgery -- and yadda, yadda, yadda, Rajai Davis is the Tigers' everyday left fielder.
So far, he has exceeded everyone's expectations.
Through 21 games this season, Davis is slashing .353/.416/.471. He has 2 HR, 9 RBI, and 8 SB. He has also crossed home plate on 13 occasions. Using the first month of the season as our measuring stick, Rajai Davis has been the single best offensive addition the Tigers made this offseason. There, I said it.
Take a look at how Davis' numbers stack up next to the Tigers' other big addition, Ian Kinsler.
Davis has been on base a whole lot, which has certainly surprised his critics (.319 career OBP). When he gets on base he has the ability to move over via the steal, which allows other guys to drive him in more easily. It's worth noting that Davis has put up numbers similar to and better than Kinsler's in 22 fewer ABs. Davis has had some days off, while Kinsler has not; Davis has also played 8 of his games batting ninth, while Kinsler consistently bats in the top of the order. This is certainly not to knock Ian Kinsler. I'd be crazy to suggest that he hasn't been an incredibly valuable piece of the puzzle thus far. I'm just saying that, man, Rajai Davis has been really stinking good so far, you guys.
How good, you ask? Really, really good. Let's talk about his leadoff numbers. The last time the Tigers had a leadoff hitter perform this well in the month of April was 2010 -- Austin Jackson's inaugural season. By the way, Jackson was robbed of Rookie of the Year honors in 2010. Anywhosits, here is how Davis' numbers as a leadoff hitter stack up against Jackson's first month in Detroit.
Man, Austin Jackson was FIRE his rookie year. Still, Davis has managed to match Jackson's HR and SB output from that season in less than half the number of ABs as the Tigers' leadoff guy. Meanwhile, his OBP is just a touch higher. And if you consider Davis' total numbers so far compared with Jackson's from 2010 (Jackson led off every game), you'll notice that Davis has actually accumulated more homers, RBI, and steals than Jackson did in that timeframe. Not bad. By the way, Curtis Granderson's April numbers never looked even remotely like this.
But what about Shin-Soo Choo? Surely the guy Texas signed for $130 M is producing better than Davis at this point, right? Wrong.
Davis has been as good or better than Choo in every major offensive category besides OBP, which should come as no surprise since Choo is known for getting on base with insane regularity. So far, Davis' 2 year, $10 M contract is looking like a steal by comparison.
The question becomes whether or not Rajai Davis can maintain this type of production. Obviously, the answer to that is "nope." I don't see Davis winning a batting title this year. That's fine. At the same time, we should be encouraged by Davis' strong start and should be optimistic that he is poised to have perhaps his best season ever. According to Baseball Reference, April is the cruelest month in Davis' career. He typically gets better as the season goes on. This isn't to say Davis is going to get better the rest of the way; it just means that he's off to a much faster start than usual, and his numbers on the season could certainly reap the benefits.
Before the season began, our resident statistician predicted that Davis would slash .261/.308/.363 with 50 runs scored, 5 homers, and 34 RBI. With a month under our belts, I'm thinking a little bigger. I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility for Davis to go .276/.325/.380 with 65 runs scored, 7 homers, and 40 RBI. Hell, he could even steal 50 bases this year.
There are not enough superlatives to describe Rajai Davis' offensive output for the Tigers so far this season. His style of play fits perfectly with the new approach Brad Ausmus has brought to the bench. He may be less than stellar defensively, but if he keeps hitting and running the way he's been, he'll make it awfully difficult for Ausmus to take him out of the lineup when Andy Dirks returns.
So, to all my friends out there who called me crazy for liking Rajai Davis:
I hate to say it, but I told you so.