Detroit Tigers’ Rajai Davis Has Improved His Approach at the Plate


Apr 26, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Rajai Davis (20) hits a triple in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Rajai Davis left Sunday’s game in the eighth inning after tweaking a groin muscle. Neither the Detroit Tigers nor Davis considered the injury serious at the time, but one always wonders how such a slowdown might affect a player like Davis, whose carrying tool is his speed.

Fortunately, it appears that he’s good to go after sitting out two days as he returns to the Detroit Tigers’ lineup on Wednesday afternoon.

With Anthony Gose struggling at the plate — he has 10 strikeouts in his last 22 plate appearances — the return of Davis is a welcomed sight. Davis has been an on-base machine for the Tigers in the early going, posting a 14% walk rate and .341 batting average to combine for a .441 on-base percentage. Rajai’s speed makes him dangerous on the base paths — he’s stolen six bases and has been caught once so far this year — but simply getting on base has been half the battle for him in his career (he’s never been an above-average on-base guy).

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  • Davis has never been shy to swing the bat and put the ball in play — something that’s not bad for a speedy leadoff-type hitter — but he’s hurt himself at times when this type of aggressiveness has translated into a lack of walks. This season, however, he’s made some apparent changes to his approach at the plate which has helped him to (nearly) triple his walk rate.

    According to Pitch F/X data, Davis has swung at 21% of the pitches that have been delivered to him outside of the strike zone. That’s down from a 33% career average (and 30% league average). This more discerning approach has lead to the improved walk rate (14%, up from a career 5.5%) as well as an improved contact rate of 94% (up from 81% career).

    It’s generally wise to avoid drawing conclusions from April statistics, but these types of plate discipline metrics provide a better insight into Davis’ approach at the plate than traditional walk, batting average, and on-base percentage numbers do. If this approach change turns out to be real and sustainable, Davis’ value as a leadoff hitter (and base runner/stealer) is going to be drastically improved.

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