Rajai Davis: Professional Pinch Runner?

Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures

Some may say he’s the Robin Hood of the basepaths; others would say he’s merely a fourth outfielder at best. Needless to say, Rajai Davis is really carving out a niche for himself as a professional pinch runner.

In three of the last six games, John Farrell opted to use Rajai Davis as a late game pinch runner instead of having him start in centre field. In two of those games, Davis helped scored the go-ahead run.

Considering how well this strategy panned out against the Seattle Mariners, it begs the question … should the Blue Jays used Rajai Davis exclusively as a pinch runner late in games from hereon out?


Davis spent his first 14 games of the season as the leadoff hitter for the Blue Jays, and it was thought that he would provide that top of the lineup spark that this club has been so desperately seeking these past few seasons.

The problem that haunted Rajai Davis in the leadoff spot which still haunts him now is it’s not that he has problem on the basepaths, it’s getting on base in the first place that’s the issue. Batting leadoff this season, Davis had a OBP of .186 and just .267 combined.

Since Rajai Davis can’t seem to get on base, the shortcut to success is essentially to take the bat out of his hands and let him go nuts on the basepaths. When the Blue Jays are close or tied late in the game and they have a man on base, get Davis on the bench and let him cause some havoc out there.

When you look around the league and compare Rajai Davis to the perennial speedsters like Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, their numbers are all basically the same aside from one thing; walks. Ellsbury and Gardner have walked 34 and 37 times respectively compared to Davis’ 11 free passes.

And now with the Travis Snider centre field experiment underway, Rajai Davis is rapidly becoming obsolete as a need in the outfield. Although Snider is just in his infancy in centre, he appears to be more than adequate at the position.

If it were up to me, I’d much rather see the Blue Jays have an outfield of Patterson/Snider/Thames with Davis on the bench rather than Snider/Davis/Thames with Patterson on the bench.

Even though things appear to be at a low point for Rajai, it could just be the giant first half black cloud splits which has Rajai Davis his entire career. Lifetime in the first half, Davis has a .288 on base percentage compared to a .349 on base percentage.

Until Rajai Davis can prove to John Farrell that he can get on base by his own means in a low leverage batting order position, Davis should stayed glued to the bench until late in the game. As much as it pains me to say this, I’d prefer Corey Patterson in the lineup over Rajai Davis.

Call me crazy, but Patterson’s baserunning and questionable routes to fly balls notwithstanding, personally I’d take the slight on base upgrade over Rajai Davis’ range and speed in the starting lineup.


Another reason to choose Patterson over Davis to start games in the outfield is Davis would prove to be a much better pinch runner than Corey Patterson. I wouldn’t trust Patterson to steal a base late in a game, but I would trust Rajai Davis.

Since Davis seems to have no issue hitting left-handers, I was going to suggest creating a two-headed outfield monster with Rajai Davis and Corey Patterson, but both of their splits this season favour hitting lefties.

To me, the most crucial part of the Blue Jays defensive outfield alignment is having the duo of Travis Snider and Eric Thames out there as often as possible. Neither of them should be deprived of at bats, so it seems like Rajai Davis and Corey Patterson will likely be splitting outfield duties anyway.

In theory, Rajai Davis should have been that sparkplug at the top of the lineup the Blue Jays were looking for. Instead, I got so enamoured with his speed that I failed to notice that at his peak, Davis only got on base 31.6% of the time.

Speed may be sexy, but on base percentage is forever.

Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

12 thoughts on “Rajai Davis: Professional Pinch Runner?

  • July 26, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Davis as a late-game pinch-runner is brilliant. The guy wins games when he gets on, so just put him on when you want him to steal second and third and come home on a sac-fly.

    Althouh, isn't a more ideal outfield Thames/Snider/Bautista, with Lawrie at 3rd (sooner rather than later I should think).

  • July 26, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Agreed with the above, let Thames/Snider/Bautista roam the outfield, have Lawrie, Escobar, Hill and Lind in the infield.

    Then if you're down by a run in the 8th or 9th and some one gets on, put in Rajai to steal 2nd and/or 3rd. The guy's bat doesn't play well enough to be a full time outfielder.

    Now, if we could only find a speedy second baseman who could actaully hit!

  • July 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    BlueJaynator, down the road that would be the idea outfield. If Lawrie gets the call soon and Jose goes back to the outfield, I think Corey Patterson's at bats will also be few and far between.

    Anon, I just think back to so many times when John McDonald and Corey Patterson would pinch run late in the game, and very rarely would it ever pay off. If somebody gets in base, plug Davis in there and give him the green light to cause some havoc on the basepaths.

    Because I wouldn't trust Davis to get on base himself, anyway.

  • July 26, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Sort of the baserunning equivalent to a dedicated closer. When you are up a run you bring in your closer and when you are down a run or tied you use Davis as a pinch runner. I like it.

  • July 26, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    It's a pity that he isn't much of a defensive replacement, as that could double his late-inning utility.

    Why hasn't anyone mentioned that Davis runs both fast and funny? It's double the entertainment value!

  • July 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Once Davis becomes your 4th OF/speed off the bench guy, there really isn't much reason to keep Patterson around anymore so Lawrie should just replace him outright. McCoy can act as a 5th OF while also covering the infield.

  • July 26, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    KK, sounds like a great idea. Heck, I'd say even use him as a pinch-runner when the Blue Jays are ahead too to help score an insurance run.

    Gabriel, Davis doesn't provide much of a defensive upgrade, but he certainly wouldn't be much worse than whoever the starting CF (Snider, Patterson or otherwise) would be that day.

    King_Cats, I think the Blue Jays will find the outfield is going to become extremely crowded in the next few weeks. Unless they plan on sending Thames down (which I hope they don't), then Patterson will likely be the next to go as you mentioned.

  • July 26, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    As much as I agree, I think the 'optimal' solution is Thames/Snider/Bautista in the OF with Davis as 4th/PR – with gordie hardon Lawrie at 3rd. Clearly, Bautista is our RF for the forseeable future and Snider and Thames (barring a possible trade) are as well. Patterson has zero offensive or defensive upside over replacement.
    Just DFsAyin

  • July 26, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    @jaysfan2011 you are a genius

  • July 27, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    JaysFan2011, seems like the clock is ticking on Patterson now. It's merely a matter of time!

  • July 27, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Interesting that you said this and then he was part of the trade for Rasmus.

  • July 27, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Psmith, wow – that's freaky. I assumed Patterson would be DFA'd, not included in a package deal to get Colby Rasmus.

    The fact that the Blue Jays somehow managed to parlay Corey Patterson (a minor league signing) into an asset is beyond my wildest dreams.

    Well done AA, well done.

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