In a surprising twist that may constitute a Christmas miracle, the Orioles are interested in an actual outfielder to have on next year’s team. The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo Encina reported on Friday morning that the O’s “remain on the hunt to upgrade their corner outfield spots” and that one player who interests them is Rajai Davis.
The last time the baseball world saw Davis in action, he hit a home run off of Aroldis Chapman in Game 7 of the World Series. The Orioles are more likely to be interested in him because of what he did in the regular season, stealing 43 bases in 49 attempts. That’s a success rate of about 88%. As a team, the 2016 O’s only stole 19 bases in 32 attempts, a mind-bogglingly horrible number.
Davis also has the bonus of being an actual outfielder, although the publicly-available defensive metrics are in disagreement about whether he is OK or whether he is kind of bad. In Defensive Runs Saved, Davis was -8 runs in about 1,000 innings split between center field and left field. Ultimate Zone Rating scored him better at about +2 runs - not great, but leaps and bounds better than having Mark Trumbo out there.
Encina also suggests that Davis could fill the Orioles need for a leadoff hitter. That’s true in the sense that Davis, like any player, can have his name written at the top of the lineup.
However, Davis is not a viable leadoff option, despite his speed. Anyone with a career on base percentage of .314, who has posted a .306 OBP the past two seasons, should not be a leadoff hitter, even on the OBP-challenged Orioles. This idea is just horrible enough that it’s plausible that the Orioles would go for it. That’s what they do.
If OBP is what costs money now, which it does, then getting a cheaper, fast guy is probably still an improvement for the team. After all, the O’s leadoff man for a lot of 2016 was Adam Jones, who is no leadoff hitter either, and who didn’t even have the benefit of being speedy on the bases. O’s leadoff hitters overall posted a .310 OBP in 2016, 13th among the 15 AL teams.
That’s not good. Davis as leadoff would also not be good. He would, at least, have the ability to steal some bases, assuming that all of his speed doesn’t leave him over the winter. Davis is now 36 years old. This would normally be more of a worry if he hadn’t just stolen those 43 bases with a high success rate. It’s a skill that’s demonstrably still in his toolbox.
Another thing that Davis is not is a left-handed batter, which the Orioles have claimed to want for that outfield spot. Why that’s what they want when they were horrible against lefties for the past two years is a continual source of puzzlement and frustration for this blogger. Davis batted just .235/.296/.374 against lefties this past season. He might fit right in.
Davis made $5.25 million in the 2016 season. That may be the biggest reason the O’s are interested. He won’t cost a lot. That’s a significant consideration when the Orioles either don’t have a lot of money to spend or will only spend a big chunk of money if it’s on Trumbo.