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Running Rajai

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Rajai Davis is fast. Compared to his new Toronto Blue Jays teammates, Rajai Davis can fly. He stole 50 bases for the Oakland A’s in 2010. The Toronto Blue Jays, as a team, stole 58.

On the surface, Davis’ 2010 .320 on-base percentage, for a Blue Jays team looking to improve their OBP as a unit, is nothing to go upstairs and tell mom about. But as R.J. Anderson points out over at FanGraphs, “Davis’ career .330 on-base percentage would’ve ranked as the fifth-highest on the 2010 Blue Jays.” Which is pretty goddamn sad.

As for where Davis fits into the Jays’ lineup, your guess is as good as mine. He could be John Farrell’s new leadoff hitter, although, again, Davis’ .332 career OBP in 133 career games, in 538 at-bats, from the top of the order doesn’t exactly get me all hot and bothered. If Davis is Farrell’s new fourth outfielder, and pinch-runner, he’s certainly an upgrade over the departed DeWayne Wise. And because the newest Blue Jay can play all three outfield positions, he probably leaps Fred Lewis on the depth chart, too.

There’s more to Rajai Davis than just his speed, though. Where he’s going to come in handy for the Blue Jays is against left-handed pitching. Because, as you know, the Jays can’t hit left-handed pitching. At least they didn’t in 2010. Davis’ slash line versus LHP this past season: .304/.349/.435/.784. A .323 BABIP, along with a .344 wOBA. For his career, Davis has hit southpaws to the tune of .292/.347/.402/.750. Good enough for a .329 BABIP, and .331 wOBA. The numbers aren’t spectacular by any means, but considering how the Blue Jays fared against lefties in 2010, they’re going to help.

How bad were the Jays this summer? Bloody awful. They scored 139 runs versus LHP; nobody scored fewer. Their AL East brethren, the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox, scored 264, 263 and 239 runs against LHP, respectively. Good for first, second and fourth in the Majors. Toronto’s .215 team batting average against LHP? Last in baseball. Toronto’s .286 team OBP against LHP? Last in baseball. Their .379 slugging percentage against LHP wasn’t thirtieth out of 30; it ranked twenty-first. Home runs will do that for you. Only Baltimore, Houston and Seattle registered a team OPS lower than Toronto’s .665 versus LHP.

Only two regulars from Cito Gaston’s infamous final lineups put up OPS’s of greater than .900 against LHP: John Buck (1.116), and Edwin Encarnion (.914). John’s Buck-ed off down to Florida, while Edwin is Encarnaci-gone. Yunel Escobar’s line of .275/.396/.425/.821 was none too shabby, but came in only 40 at-bats. You’d think guys like Vernon Wells, Jose Bautista, and Aaron Hill would feast on LHP. Instead, they were feasted upon. Hide your kids, your wife, and your husbands, too:

Wells (113 ABs): .195/.289/.354/.643

Bautista (108 ABs): .222/.333/.509/.843

Hill (120 ABs): .125/.226/.225/.451

Adam Lind (137 ABs): .117/.159/.182/.341

If there’s a silver lining in those bawdy numbers, it’s that Hill and Lind can’t possibly be that bad again. Hill’s BABIP against LHP last season was .124; Lind’s: .167.

The point is, while Toronto can certainly use Davis’ speed, they need his bat, too. Now, I’m not going to pretend to know much of anything about the two prospects — Trystan Magnuson and Daniel Farquhar, both relievers — Alex Anthopoulos sent to Oakland. But that the Blue Jays chose to trade two guys from an area of organizational strength for someone who fills two needs, and who is under team control until 2014, makes the deal a good one. All the more so when I read in the San Francisco Chronicle that Davis was “among the most popular players on [Oakland], always cheerful and respected by his teammates for his deep faith and work with his church,” and that he called the trade “a new adventure.”  Hustle, heart, and God. And, you know what, maybe the guy upstairs can help.

The more you look at the Davis acquisition, and all the numbers, the more a Fred Lewis/Rajai Davis platoon at the top of the lineup, and in the outfield, makes sense. But make no mistake about it, Davis becoming a Blue Jay is about more than just his speed.

The best part of the transaction: Anthopoulos is just getting started. Of all the offseasons in professional sports, none are better than baseball’s.

Credit to Getty Images’ Jed Jacobsohn for the photo.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 17th, 2010 at 11:15 pm