First, I'll admit that I have been a fan of his since his cup of coffee across the bay. I was delighted when they DFA'd him and the A's picked him up. He's the kind of player who brings an electricity that fires up his team and can cause all sorts of headaches for the opposition...and he appears to have what Will Carroll calls the "skill" of staying healthy. (jinx!)
There is some difference of opinion about whether Rajai Davis should be considered a good leadoff hitter for the A's. (There is also some difference of opinion as to whether his 2009 performance after he became an everyday player was indicative of his abilities or simply a fluke.) Before turning to the work that pays my bills this Sunday morning I thought I'd write a bit about this.
When you take a look at his stats pages (major league stats here) (minor league stats here) it's clear that he never really got a serious major league shot until he became an Oakland Athletic. He hasn't particularly impressed so far as a bench player. In 2008 and especially in 2009 he appeared to improve with regular everyday play. He himself said that he needs repetition in games in order to really put into productive practice what he works on.
It's not often that you have a player who causes so much distraction on the basepaths for the opposing team. (Ichiro of course is a notable active example, although Ichiro is a future Hall of Famer – and no, I am not comparing Rajai as a player to Ichiro.) Rajai causes fits for the opposing pitchers, catchers and infirleders. We have seen many examples where this leads directly to runs – which the A's need no matter how they get them. So what's the problem with Rajai?
In order to be considered a good choice to lead off he needs to improve his OBP. This seems obvious, but should be pointed out without minimizing the other qualities he exhibits that are positives for a leadoff hitter. He needs to improve it by working walks, by learning to generate some infield hits (including bunting for hits), etc. He especially needs to figure out how to cut down on hitting fly balls instead of ground balls. All of these should help him increase his OBP.
Some may argue that he should have learned this already. But consider that his minor league career was spent with the Pittsburgh organization; I'm not familiar enough with them to know if they tried to have him work on this – I don't think the Giants do much of this, by the way. Others may argue that he's too old to learn to change his game. This argument seems strange to me since he's only 29. For example, Scutaro was older than Raj when the A's pointed out to him that he needed to increase his OBP, and he was able to work on doing that. If Rajai is a hard worker and accepts instruction he should be able to work on this part of the game - and by all accounts he is one of the hardest workers on the team.
I have read that he works very hard with Skaalen, although I don't know what they concentrate on. (Ty Van Burkleo also commented once that Rajai was working intensively with him on batting when Ty was the A's hitting coach.) Perhaps it would be a good idea for the A's to get someone (Rickey?) to work intensively with him on specifically getting on base besides trying to hit the ball out of the infield -- and I don't mean just for a couple of weekends in spring training, but throughout the season.
Finally, although I did mention last season that I wished Geren would bat him leadoff instead of Kennedy, I do recognize that most of his success last season was in the two-spot.
OK, time to get some work done before the game!