Mensching: Letting Davis walk not part of Tigers’ woes

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News
Rajai Davis had three hits, a run and an RBI as the Indians swept the Tigers over the weekend at Comerica Park.

It’s a question you hear raised more and more: Why didn’t the Tigers keep Rajai Davis?

And now that Davis had three hits, a run, an RBI and one whale of catch to help his new club — the Indians — come out of Comerica Park with a sweep of the Tigers, you’ll probably hear it again.

The question comes up not just in light of the success of Davis’ current team, but also the apparent need for a player like him on the Tigers.

Watching the Tigers play the Indians this weekend, you didn’t need to see the score to know why one team has a 9-0 record on the year against the other.

The Indians are just that much better right now.

Cleveland has better starting pitching. The worst performance by an Indians starter this weekend was by Danny Salazar, who gave up three runs in 5.2 innings on Friday. He has an ERA of 2.40 for the season.

Carlos Carrasco threw a complete-game shutout on Saturday, and Josh Tomlin allowed three runs in eight innings on Sunday.

Anibal Sanchez was Detroit’s best starter. He gave up four runs in five innings. Neither Jordan Zimmermann (seven runs allowed) nor Justin Verlander (eight runs) made it out of the fifth inning.

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To go with that, the Indians have the second-best defense in the AL, as judged by UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating per 150 games), at nearly 10 runs above average. The Tigers are the second worst at 8.2 runs below average.

The Indians are second in the league in Fangraphs’ baserunning stat, at 10.2 runs above average. The Tigers are 27th at 8.8 runs below average.

And that’s where Davis comes back into the equation, isn’t it?

Davis was an above-average outfielder defensively in both of his years in Detroit (again, measured by UZR/150). He could play all three of the outfield positions.

On the basepaths, he continues to be above-average and already has 21 stolen bases on the year.

All for the low, low price of $5.25 million for the year.

Naturally at that point your mind looks for a contrast. Another outfielder, maybe. One who’s being paid $22.125 million this season with the Tigers, who are on the hook for $132.75 million by the end of the deal should things not turn around.

Oh, yes. Justin Upton, who went 1-for-10 in the series.

This year Upton’s an average runner and below-average fielder. And for the season, he’s looking up at Davis in weighted runs created (wRC+). Davis is at 104, or 4 percent better than an average batter. Upton is at 77, or 23 percent worse.

Or in more simple terms: Davis hits for better average, gets on base more and has the same amount of power at a quarter of the cost.

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So why didn’t the Tigers just keep Davis, right?

That’s rewriting the past.

It’s important to go back to the past offseason and think about the way things were.

Davis isn’t gone because of Upton. He’s gone because of trading for Cameron Maybin. The Tigers simply were not going to carry two near identical players on their roster. Maybin made Davis irrelevant.

Maybe that mindset was wrong. Maybe the Tigers would be better today with both Maybin and Davis patrolling the outfield. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

But if Upton played up to the standard he set in the past — he’s a career 119 wRC+ batter and above-average baserunner entering his prime years — we’re not sitting here wondering why the Tigers let Davis get away. And we’re probably not talking about the Tigers losing nine straight games to Cleveland to start the year.

If the Tigers are going to stand any chance at passing the Indians in the second half of the season, they don’t need a player like Davis. They need one like Upton — if only he’d show up.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog ( He can be reached at