Rajai Davis — to be or not to be?

I'm back to discuss another of our current outfielders, and once again to make the case for his extended reign over the green grasses of the Coliseum.

Yes, this has been discussed before. But it needs to be discussed again.

Here's the question: should Rajai Davis be the starting center fielder on the A's in 2010, and the deeper question, does Rajai Davis deserve to be a starter on a good team...? (Hopefully these questions will be one and the same because the A's will be a good contending team next year! Right...? hopefully...? I'm always optimistic)


Obviously, the reason I'm writing this fanpost is that I think the answer to both questions should be an unequivocal yes.

Join me after the jump for statistical evidence to back up my bold thesis!

According to Fangraphs, Rajai Davis has accrued 3.3 Wins Above Replacement so far this year, in 298 PA.

His defense has been worth 14.4 runs and his offense has been worth 8.3 runs. Plus, he plays centerfield, one of the hardest positions on the diamond.

3.3 WAR in 298 PAs! That's ridiculous. Over 600 PAs, which if healthy, a leadoff-style hitter like Rajai should get in a year, that is 6.6 WAR! Yes, you read that right. 6.6 WAR is very high. An average all-star will be worth about 4 WAR in a season. For some context, Evan Longoria this year, with his stats extrapolated over 600 PAs will be worth about 6 WAR. Yes, Rajai Davis has been arguably more valuable per PA this year than Evan Longoria, and he's no schmuck.

Now the obvious argument is that Rajai Davis cannot maintain this kind of production. This is an understandable argument, and one which I could personally go either way on. So in fact, assuming that Rajai Davis regresses to his 2007 stats between the Pirates and the Giants, let's take a look at his numbers from that year.

In 219 PAs in 2007, Rajai Davis was worth 1 WAR. This extrapolates to a 2.7 WAR full season. Not all-star worthy, but definitely above average, and cheap... But when one looks at Davis' numbers from 2007, something stands out. He was worth only 0.4 fielding runs. His range, according to UZR, was negative. This could be chalked up to small sample size, or it's quite possible that he has drastically improved his routes in the outfield since then, making him a plus-plus defender. Either way, if one is to assume that he won't lose his outfielding abilities, and plugs in his career outfield numbers, in his 379 innings from 2007, he would be worth 4.8 fielding runs. This adjustment makes his 2007 numbers (w/ altered fielding) worth about 1.4 WAR. Once again, over 600 PAs, Davis is worth about 3.8 WAR. A borderline all-star.

So really, the only question is: Is 2008 his real skill level? Because Rajai Davis was not a very good hitter in 2008. He was worth -6.8 offensive runs last year. Pretty bad. His defense, however, was worth 4.9 runs, and with the CF adjustment, he was still 0.6 wins above replacement in 2008. If his 226 PAs are extrapolated over the entire season, he would accrue roughly 1.6 WAR. Below average, but not terrible and still worth more than $7million on the free agent market.

So, as I see it, Rajai Davis in two of his three seasons as a major leaguer has been an all-star or better. In the other season, he was below average, but still a bargain. I personally think his true offensive skill level is probably more along the lines of his 2007, but it's possible that's not actually the case. His ISO has gradually gone up each year in the majors, and in his last year in AAA his offensive output was similar to this year's, with an even higher ISO.

So, AN, what do you think?

Does Raj Davis have what it takes?

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