The Detroit Tigers have had a rather eventful offseason, and one of their many moves included the inking of the speedy veteran Rajai Davis to a two-year deal worth $10 million to platoon with Andy Dirks in left field. Davis is going to be a very interesting player to watch as he brings something to the table that the Tigers have not had in a very long time: speed and the ability to steal bases.
As a result of Dirks’ struggles at the plate in 2013, some fans are even wondering if Davis may be able to beat him out for the starting job in left field this spring. Davis may possess the rare type of blazing speed that makes pitchers have nightmares about putting him on the basepaths, but he should absolutely not be the Tigers’ everyday left fielder in 2014.
If Davis is the everyday left fielder, the Tigers’ starting lineup will only feature two left-handed bats against right-handed pitching: Victor Martinez and Alex Avila. Furthermore, Davis, especially in recent years, has really struggled against right-handed pitching. He hit just .228 against RHP in 2013, and wasn’t much better in 2012 at .243.
Davis did not hit higher than .260 overall during his past three seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. He even stooped to as low as .238 back in 2011. He did hit for a higher average back when he was playing with the Oakland Athletics from 2008-10, but those days appear to be in the history books.
It is also relevant to note that Davis struck out 102 times in just 447 at-bats in 2012, and he has never once cracked double-digits in the home run category in his eight-year career. It is hard to imagine Davis setting a career-high in home runs while playing his home games in spacious Comerica Park.
Some fans are not thrilled about Dirks being the everyday left fielder as a result of his 2013 performance, which is understandable, but it is important to note that he was playing with a knee injury throughout the entire year. If Dirks is healthy in 2014, he has the potential to put up numbers that Davis could only dream about posting. One needs to look no further than Dirks’ 2012 season to see what he is capable of doing at the plate when he is healthy.
In fairness to Davis, however, he can still be a very effective weapon against left-handed pitching. He hit .319 in 116 at-bats against LHP in 2013, and also has a rock solid .294 career average against lefties. Therefore, he is best suited to be a platoon player and start in left field against left-handed pitchers as the Tigers originally planned when they signed him.
Davis can also come in as a pinch runner or play right field when the 38-year old Torii Hunter needs a breather, or center field if Austin Jackson needs a day off. There is certainly a role for Davis to play, but he is simply not a starter.
It has been a long time since the Tigers have had a player who is capable of swiping 50 or more bags, and Davis’ speed should prove to be a priceless asset. However, he simply does not have enough tools in his toolbox to be the Tigers’ starting left fielder in 2014. If it does turn out that Dirks cannot make a comeback and revert to his 2012 form, then it is imperative that the Tigers seek out another left-handed bat to platoon with Davis in left.