I should not need to remind everyone of the less-than-stellar reaction some Cleveland Indians fans had when the team went out and signed Rajai Davis to a one-year deal last offseason.
“Who wants this 35-year-old guy whose biggest plus is speed?” is what I imagine someone said shortly after it was announced. “Is this some kind of way to intimdate Yan Gomes and his busted knee?” is probably something someone said at one point or another on Twitter. Look, the point is the reaction to the Rajai Davis signing was not great.
Even our own comment section — which I must say is several notches above Twitter in regards to the level of discourse and general handsomeness (please buy our t-shirts) — was not thrilled with it, or were at least lukewarm to the idea. Almost every dissenting opinion on the signing had someone with a positive spin right below it, granted, but it was not an overwhelmingly positive reception. Especially considering just how well Rajai produced in his short stint with the Tribe.
Davis’s place on the Indians was always fluid
At most it looked like Davis would be a platoon option when Michael Brantley returned (remember those days?), although most speculation had him platooning in right field with Lonnie Chisenhall. He wound up spending most of his time platooning in center field with Tyler Naquin, instead. The two formed a formidable pair until a book titled Destroying Tyler Naquin was published and distributed to every pitcher in baseball. Then it was mostly Davis being an average offensive outfielder every other day while Naquin provided a black hole.
For the first half of the season, Davis spent a lot of time as the permanent left fielder while Abraham Almonte sat suspended for PED use. All told, Davis played 387.1 innings in left field, 595.1 in center field, and just six innings in right field in early April. Davis was passable against right-handed pitchers with a .258/.312/.396 slash, but considerably worse against lefties with a .235/.296/.374 slash line.
But Rajai Davis was never signed to be a great hitter. He was signed for one thing (okay, two if you include defense)...
Speed is what the Indians signed Davis for, and speed is what they got
Even though he did not rack up enough plate appearances to be considered a qualified batter, Rajai Davis swiped 43 bags — enough to lead the American League — and was caught just six times. That’s an 88 percent steal rate, best among all players who stole at least 20 bases in 2016. Did I mention the man is 35 years old?
I still will not say I love it, but Davis also made a habit of stealing third base and generally being unpredictable on the base paths. He led the league with 13 third base heists, ahead of Mike Trout’s 10. Maybe more important than how many times he stole bases, he ran the bases intelligently. According to Baseball Reference, he was only out at second or third twice when trying to make a play, as in when he was going for an extra base — anything but a force out or pickoff or caught stealing. If there was a ball in play, more often than not the Indians could count on him making the right decision.
Davis should look back fondly on his time in Cleveland
As far as personal accomplishments go, this season should be high on Davis’s personal list of favorites. His 43 stolen bases were the most since 2013 and his 2.0 fWAR is the highest since he broke out with the Oakland Athletics in 2009. The journeyman’s 495 plate appearances were also the highest since 2010 when he played in 143 games and went to the plate 561 times with the A’s.
Davis has never spent more than three full seasons with any one team. If his time with the Indians is really a one-and-done deal, he absolutely deserves to be a big part of what you think of when you remember the team’s unlikely run to the World Series. He provided several great moments in the regular season, and the best moment of the entire season when it mattered most — in Game 7 of the World Series.
Thanks for everything, Rajai.