Over the weekend, Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the Rays were interested in free agent slugger Matt Davidson. Davidson, who was non-tendered by the White Sox, has spent the majority of his playing time in the MLB as a designated hitter.
The intriguing thing about the Rays’ interest in Davidson is that the team sees Davidson as a potential two-way player for the team, similar to top prospect Brendan McKay.
A righty at the plate and on the mound, Davidson could help the Rays out in multiple facets of the game.
Davidson only pitched three innings in 2018 with Chicago, but those three innings didn’t look like typical innings thrown by a position player. With a fastball that reached 92mph and a curveball that induced two strikeouts, Davidson showed that he might have the tools to be more than just a designated hitter.
While the sample size is incredibly small, Davidson looked like he could handle his own on the mound, and his numbers at the plate show that turning him into a two-way player wouldn’t be the craziest idea.
Davidson brings plenty of power with his 42.6% hard hit rate, according to Statcast. At that rate, he ranks just above the likes of Miguel Sano, Edwin Encarnacion and Gary Sanchez.
With a 90.0 mph average exit velocity, Davidson on average hits the ball harder than sluggers like Nolan Arenado, Jesus Aguilar and Cody Bellinger. The power is there for Davidson, and with a respectable 13.7 degree average launch angle (two degrees higher than the league-average of 11.5), there’s potential for an above-average bat.
Here’s Matt Davidson’s power at its best, with him turning around a 77mph changeup from Blaine Hardy into 108mph of exit velocity for Davidson’s ninth home run in 2017.
2018 was Matt Davidson’s second full season, and it was a vast improvement over his 2017 campaign. While a line of .228/.319/.419 with 19 homers in 2018 wasn’t by any standards spectacular, Davidson showed that he could at least get on base at a league-average rate, and did so with a wRC+ of 104.
Davidson’s walk rate in 2018 was 10.5%, just above league average and more than double his walk rate in 2017. His BABIP was pretty high at .313, so expect that to drop in 2019, but Steamer’s projection of a .285 BABIP is fair when considering the type of hitter that Davidson is.
Davidson’s batted ball metrics are already solid, and even though his 2018 season as a whole wasn’t anything to write home about, his numbers against left-handed pitchers were very much worth taking note in.
With a 2018 wRC+ of 144 against lefties, Davidson would’ve been the fourth best right-handed hitter against the lefties on the Rays in 2018. Behind Tommy Pham and the departed Rays Wilson Ramos and CJ Cron,
Davidson’s numbers were even higher than to-be-acquired outfielder and former teammate Avisail Garcia.
Comparing Davidson’s stats (even when you include his entire career and not just his 2018 campaign) against lefties with the Rays’ team average and averages for Rays’ right-handed hitters, it’s apparent that he’s capable of turning the ball around when this matchup occurs.
This is highlighted by Davidson’s .381 wOBA, which was 50 points higher than the team’s right-handed hitters’ average wOBA of .331. Davidson’s OBP, at .382, would’ve been the third best on the team against lefties as well, ranking above the whole team average of .334 and righty average of .342.
Even better is the fact that Davidson’s strikeout rate against lefties dropped to 14.2% which would’ve been the best on the Rays against lefties, who as a team struck out 23.5% of the time.
Although Steamer projects that Davidson will hit 19 homers again in 2019, they ultimately project that he will regress next season with a wRC+ of 87 and an OPS under .700. However, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think that Davidson could perform at a level somewhere in the middle of his 2018 season and his projections if exposed to right handed pitchers given the abilities we’ve seen on the short side.
Davidson is projected to make about 160 less plate appearances in 2019 than he did in 2018, but his batted ball metrics help make the argument that he could out-perform Steamer’s projections.
All thing considered, Davidson could be a reliable replacement to CJ Cron’s offensive production on the short side of the DH platoon, and for a lot less money. MLB Trade Rumors projected that Matt Davidson would make $2.4M in arbitration, but the White Sox non-tendered him in November.
Avisail Garcia is reportedly going to sign with the Rays at $3.5M, almost 60% less than his projection of $8M in arbitration by MLB Trade Rumors, before incentives. It wouldn’t be crazy to think that Matt Davidson could be had for around $1M, or even signed to a minor-league deal if both sides really want Davidson to work on becoming a two-way player.
Matt Davidson brings respectable numbers against left-handed pitching, and for a team that loves to think outside the box, bringing in Davidson to improve on those excellent splits at the plate while creating new splits of his own on the mound could be an inexpensive shot worth taking.