Jacoby Ellsbury, who starts tonight in centre for the damn Red Sox as the World Series begins, came to the plate 636 times in the regular season this year, and led the Majors in stolen bases with 52 of them. The man with the second-most steals in the American League? Rajai Davis, who came to the plate just 360 times. In fact, had it not been for Eric Young of the Mets swiping two bases on the final day of the season, Davis would have been second in all of baseball in steals.
That’s pretty seriously impressive, as is the fact that he also ranked second in baseball– again behind Ellsbury– in FanGraphs’ base running component of WAR, which combines their Ultimate Base Running metric with Weighted Stolen Base Runs, and that he was caught just six times in stealing his 45 bases, for a success rate over 88%.
Imagine what that would look like over the course of a full season’s worth of at-bats, right?
Pretty ugly, actually. Or… the base running stuff would still be elite, but everything else? Yeesh. Yes, if Davis gets his wish this winter some team is going to find out that… hoo boy… is he ever a platoon player.
That’s not to say that we didn’t know as much before this season, but the numbers are quite striking.
Against right-handed pitching, over three years and 802 plate appearances, he’s posted a .232/.269/.329 line, which was good for a league- and ballpark-adjusted wRC+ of 59– just a hair ahead of the abysmal J.P. Arencibia’s 57.
It’s so bad, in fact, that maybe there’s still hope for a reunion, which actually would be a tremendous gift to the Jays, provided Davis would be– finally– used correctly. That is, of course, because over those same three years he has killed it against left-handed pitching, at least in relative terms. His line in that split, over a mere 383 plate appearances, has been .297/.363/.455, which works out to a 124 wRC+, and would look absolutely perfect next to Adam Lind’s fantastic split in the other direction.
That situation would have been ideal this year as well, but the ill health of Melky Cabrera, and eventually Jose Bautista, pressed the Jays’ fourth outfielder into a whole lot more duty than was optimal. The same was true of 2012, when the demotions and subsequent trading of Eric Thames and Travis Snider opened up a tonne of playing time for Davis, who missed his career high in games played by just one, with 143.
Looking at the splits, giving him all of this playing time seems like a really, really poor decision, but that’s not entirely fair. Many of the games he got into were as a late inning defensive replacement, or as a pinch runner– where obviously he shines. His defence– particularly his often whirling routes to fly balls– certainly didn’t make him look, at times, like he was an ideal candidate for duty as the former, though, and the fact that his contract is up and the Jays have Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar, and Moises Sierra working for cheap and ready for greater opportunity in 2014 would seem pretty clearly to mean the end of his time in Toronto.
It’s a shame. He’s really a perfect fit for the club, offering speed, versatility in the outfield, and a potential platoon partner for Adam Lind, all in the guise of a fourth outfielder. Anthony Gose offers some of that, though, like Lind, he’s is a left-handed hitter. Moises Sierra could spell Lind, but he’d have a hard time spelling anyone in centre field, the possibility of him putting up elite numbers in base running metrics is beyond hopelessly remote.
Kevin Pillar didn’t impress terribly in his first turn in the big leagues this year, but he may actually be the club’s best hope for the role: he’s certainly not an elite speedster, but he stole 23 bases across two minor league levels this year, and 51 across two different levels the year before. Plus, he played in centre 70 times in the minors this season, and actually had a pretty crazy platoon split, now that you mention it. Against same-sided pitching, Pillar hit .254/.305/.388 in the minors this year– good for an OPS of .693. Against left-handers? The line was a slightly more impressive .361/.398/.545. Yes, a .943 OPS.
Maybe he could do it. But it’s a tall order to fill, given how successful the fourth outfielder he would be replacing has been. But Davis seems set on trying to find a full-time gig.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” he told Gregor Chisholm of BlueJays.com of his impending free agency earlier this month. “I think it’s another opportunity, a great opportunity, a better opportunity. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what’s available.”
“When I played in Oakland,” he continued, “I was able to play a lot more regularly, and Iwas able to produce when given the opportunity. I’m definitely looking forward to getting another chance to do that.”