One of the offseason moves that flew under the radar was the Tigers acquisition of Rajai Davis. Davis has been in the majors since 2006, and has bounced around between five different teams. The right handed hitting Davis was signed to a two year, $10 million deal to platoon in left field with Andy Dirks.
When it was announced that Andy Dirks was having back surgery, President and GM Dave Dombrowski stated that he would look internally for left field options. That eventually translated to Davis getting the bulk of the playing time in left at the beginning of the season.
After the Tigers' Opening Day centerfielder, Austin Jackson, was shipped off at the trade deadline in July, Davis took over the everyday duties in center field. Short version: Davis was not suppose to play such a large role in 2014.
Rajai Davis is known for his speed. I was excited about this acquisition at first because the Tigers finally had a player that could swipe a bag. Davis delivered in that department by stealing 36 bases and being caught 11 times. Sabermetrically, Davis earned a 6.5 Spd (Bill James Speed Score), and a 4.6 UBR (Ultimate Base Running), which are both considered great. Simply put, Davis is dynamite when he is on-base.
At the plate, Davis had a decent year. He has never been very good against right-handed pitching (.296 OBP), but was forced to face them quite a bit in 2014 with his increased role on the Tigers. Overall, he hit for a nice .280 average, but had an underwhelming on-base percentage of .320.
Somehow, Davis turned in one of his best power years by posting a .403 SLG and a .119 ISO. He tied a career-high in home runs, eight, and came up one short of his career high in RBIs with 51. Overall, Davis posted a wOBA of .319, and 102 wRC+, which is just a tick above the league average.
For a guy with a lot of speed, Davis is not very good on defense. What he lacks in natural outfield instincts, his speed can't even overcome. That's scary. Every time a ball was hit in his general vicinity, I found myself cringing. His routes were Quintin Berry-esque, especially in left field.
When the Tigers traded Austin Jackson and decided to move Davis to center, I nearly started crying in front of all the people at Wrigley Field (I was at a Cubs game during the trade deadline watching my phone like a hawk). Well, Davis held his own out there. In center, Davis had a 0.1 UZR and -3 DRS in 374 innings. In 684 innings in left, Davis had a UZR and DRS of -8.0. Ouch. Using UZR/150, Davis was worth -13.8 runs in left field and -1.7 in center.
I am not in the head of Rajai Davis, but my guess would be that he was more comfortable playing center field because he didn't have to deal with the same tail on the ball that left fielders experience. Anyway, the decision to let Rajai play center field did not turn out to be the disaster I expected.
Rajai Davis had an average year overall, proving to be worth 1.4 WAR. This is a guy who was suppose to be the fourth outfielder on the team, and turned into the team's starting center fielder. With all of the challenges that the Tigers outfield faced last season, Davis stepped in admirably. He provided a nice spark on the basepaths, plus had the most unlikely hit of the year.
On June 3 down 4–1 in the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics, Rajai Davis hit a walk-off grand slam off of one of the game's best closers, Sean Doolittle. It can be argued that Davis's pubic symphysis injury was one of the biggest x-factors of the postseason. Without his legs at 100 percent, Davis proved to be a non-entity in the playoffs.
Could a healthy Rajai have changed the entire series? Who knows. All I know is that Rajai Davis was a solid player in 2014. I would have preferred him coming off the bench rather than as an everyday player, but that's more of a knock on the depth of the Tigers than on Davis.