On Wednesday, the Red Sox added a new outfielder to the fold by trading minor-league outfielder Rafael Rincones to the Oakland A’s in exchange for Rajai Davis. Prior to the deal being announced, during the period in which we knew an outfielder was being acquired but didn’t know which outfielder, some were hoping that a big name like Giancarlo Stanton was coming to Boston. While a deal like that isn’t impossible this time of year — hello Nick Punto deal — it was always much more likely it was going to be a less exciting player. Davis fits that bill, as he certainly isn’t a star-level player. That being said, he is going to help this roster, so let’s get to know exactly what he can do.
First, the basics. Davis is a 36-year-old right-handed bat who is a bit on the smaller side at 5’10”, 195 pounds. The outfielder was selected in the 38th round of the 2001 draft and has essentially been a journeyman for his entire career. The Red Sox will be his seventh team he’s played on during his 12 years in the majors and he’s never spent more than three consecutive years with one team. He’s set to hit free agency at the end of the year and is owed about $1 million for the rest of the season.
At the plate, Davis certainly isn’t the type of player you want in the middle of your lineup on a daily basis. He can make things happen at times, but over the last two years he’s proven that he’s a safely below-average player. While he’s shown some flashes of power the overall power production is far from impressive. At his best, he was a hitter who thrived by putting the ball in play and making things happen from there. He’s been striking out more than ever in the last two seasons — he’s now striking out at around a league-average rate of 21 percent — and his batting average on balls in play has been falling as he’s aged.
In terms of platoon splits, Davis is a much more preferable option against left-handed pitching. The righty has been 35 percent worse than the league-average hitter against righties, per Fangraphs’ wRC+. Against lefties, he’s been only eight percent worse than the league-average hitter and has been at least a little better in every area of hitting. He’s also been hitting better of late with a .303/.361/.487 (128 wRC+) since the All-Star Break. Much of that production came in July, though, as he’s hitting just .211/.268/.342 (57 wRC+) in the month of August.
The bat isn’t why the Red Sox acquired Davis, though. The outfielder was brought in as a depth piece that should be able to help off the bench both to help get through Jackie Bradley’s injury and to get through the stretch run. Part of that will be thanks to his ability to play all over the outfield. Davis has played all three outfield positions at least once in each season through 2010 and has been doing so on a fairly consistent basis over his entire career. He’s not a consistently great fielder, but he’s ranged from above-average to slightly-below-average at each position, depending on your favorite defensive metric. Those numbers have declined a bit this year, but it’s hard to know how much of that is real decline and how much is small sample noise. Either way, John Farrell has said that he prefers Davis play center field, but he should feel comfortable enough to slide him into any outfield spot if they need him elsewhere.
Of course, I’m burying the lede for what David brings to the table. While his bat and defense will be of interest in the near-term future with Bradley out and Davis likely getting a larger chunk of the playing time during this stretch, his real reason to be brought in was as a pinch runner late in games. Prior to this move, Brock Holt was the team’s primary pinch runner and it seemed like Deven Marrero or Tzu-Wei Lin were going to be the running specialists for September and possibly October. The Red Sox needed someone better than that, and they certainly got that in Davis. The outfielder has been one of the very best baserunners in all of baseball throughout his career and can steal a base as well as anyone in the league not named Billy Hamilton. Through just 100 games he already has 26 stolen bases this year, a pace that would give him 42 over the course of a full 162-game season. In 2016, he led the American League with 43 swiped bags. In September, if/when someone like Hanley Ramirez, Mitch Moreland or one of the catchers comes through with a big hit late in the game with the team trailing by one, Davis is the perfect guy to call upon to steal second and instantly put a runner in scoring position. As we saw in 2004, those plays can be mildly important.
Davis certainly isn’t an Earth-shattering acquisition by Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox, but that shouldn’t be expected. At this point in the season, the core should already be set. Instead, any movement should simply be to supplement the roster and give them all the tools necessary to make the longest run possible. Davis fits that bill perfectly, and while I predict we’ll be a bit frustrated with his playing time early on, he’ll prove his worth when the games get huge in September and October. Oh, and in case you needed any more reason to love this, he did this against Aroldis Chapman last October.