The Fog of Rajai Davis

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The presence of Rajai Davis has made it very difficult to see the struggles the Blue Jays have had on the base paths in recent years.

Whenever commentators, sportswriters, or fans say that one player is carrying a team in baseball it is usually misleading hyperbole. No matter how good a pitcher is it takes a rotation to make a playoff run. Even if a single hitter is playing out of his mind one man does not a lineup make. Mike Trout has been around for two years absolutely dominating the game of baseball and has yet to see playoff action. Baseball is a team sport. However, in recent Blue Jays history there has been one notable exception, at least in one facet of the game. That exception goes by the name of Rajai Davis.

The Jays have been largely a disappointing team in the last few years, but there have been has been one area where they've consistently ranked among the league leaders. That area is base running. The following chart shows how the Blue Jays have done when it comes to running the bases in the last three years:

Stolen Bases

Caught Stealing

Base running Runs (BsR)

367 (5th )

134 (7th)

21.7 (6th)

There are a few more times caught stealing than you might want to see, but the results are generally good. The aggressive but effective base running style was something that was often attributed to "Farrell Ball" but now that John Farrell is gone it seems much wiser to attribute it to the man who's truly responsible: Mr. Rajai Davis. Davis was an unbelievable force on the bases during his tenure with the Blue Jays stealing 125 bases in three years despite not starting every day. To demonstrate Davis's effect on the team the next chart shows Toronto's base running stats minus the contribution of Rajai Davis, and where a hypothetical Jays team without Davis would rank league-wide over the same time period:

Stolen Bases

Caught Stealing

Base running Runs (BsR)

242 (27th )

104 (21st)

0.0 (15th)

In a very literal sense Rajai Davis created every once of positive value that the Blue Jays had on the bases in the last three years. In terms of stolen bases alone Davis managed a 80.6% success rate, compared to a 69.9% rate for the rest of the team. The comparison between Davis and his teammates is even more astounding looking at last years statistics in particular:

Sample

Stolen Bases

Caught Stealing

Base running Runs (BsR)

2013 Blue Jays

112 (10th) 41 (7th) 4.7 (8th)

2013 Blue Jays minus Davis

67 (22nd) 35 (10th) -5.5 (21st)

Of course, it is slightly unfair to separate a team from their best base runner in this manner. This chart is not adjusted to remove the best base runners from all the other teams so creating the rankings for "2013 Blue Jays minus Davis" is more of a descriptive exercise than a precise one. That being said, it's amazing the effect that Davis had on a team that was supposed to have a lot of plus base runners on it. Davis stole bases at a 88.2% clip compared to the 65.7% rate his teammates managed. The Jays definitely had some bad luck in terms of their other guys, Reyes couldn't run as much with his ankle troubles and Bonifacio struggled too much to stay in the lineup, but Davis was truly a one man band on the base paths.

In 2014 the Blue Jays should see their base running fortunes improve in a variety of ways. Perhaps Anthony Gose will become every bit the superlative stolen base artist Davis was, although it should be noted he only swiped bags at a 62.8% rate in Buffalo last year. With any luck Jose Reyes will be healthy enough to be the kind of factor with his legs that fans are used to seeing and Melky Cabrera will almost definitely run less like a cadaver now that he has his spine sorted out. Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus are also both plus athletes with potential to post good BsR ratings even if they don't steal a lot of bases. Power threats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have also been known to swipe the odd bag, so the situation is far from hopeless.

Even if the situation was hopeless base running is a very, very small part of baseball in the scheme of things. It is monumentally unlikely that whether the Blue Jays bounce back and win the division or suffer another brutal disappointment will depend on their prowess on the bases. However, as Rajai Davis departs he leaves behind a team whose struggles with base running had been obscured from view due to his singular brilliance. Now Blue Jays fans will see what this team can really do with their legs. The fog has been lifted.

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