The Cleveland Indians are deciding between Rajai Davis and Erik Gonzalez for the final playoff roster spot, but the only logical choice is Davis.
I never thought I’d be writing this article as I never thought the Cleveland Indians would be debating this, but here we are, Rajai Davis versus Erik Gonzalez for the last spot on the Division Series roster is apparently a debate.
I’m as annoyed with this as I am flabbergasted. This is meant as no disrespect to Erik Gonzalez, but the choice is simple and it’s Rajai Davis by a mile.
Let me start off by saying that Davis had a bad year overall. He posted a -0.2 fWAR and would be one of only two position players on the playoff roster to post a negative WAR (backup catcher Roberto Perez being the other). However, Rajai’s playoff worthiness can’t be judged based off his overall regular season performance. Why? Because he will be should be used differently.
Davis was a terrible hitter in 2018. There is no getting around that. He hit just .224 with a 50 wRC+…50! That means he was 50-percent worse than league average on the year at the plate. He posted an on-base percentage under .280 as well. However, Davis should not be asked to hit at all in the playoffs, but rather run.
When he did reach base Davis was a major asset with his legs. He stole 21 bases in 2018 despite only 216 plate appearances and posted a 2.7 BsR (stat that measures overall baserunning and not just steals). In fact, that metric had him as the second-best baserunner on the team behind Jose Ramirez (12.0).
Additionally, Davis had a sprint speed of 29.3 ft/s, making him the second fastest Indian this year, behind only the injured Bradley Zimmer (29.4). Yes, that’s right, soon-to-be 38-year-old Rajai Davis was/is faster than Greg Allen (28.9).
Rajai Davis also put up some decent numbers defensively. In 470 innings in the outfield he posted a 0 DRS (defensive runs saved), meaning he was exactly average by that metric. The other major metric, UZR (ultimate zone rating), was more kind giving him a +3.1 mark on the year.
Neither number is anything to get excited about, but both are in line with how he’s played the last few years and both are much better than the players that should be starting in the outfield for the Indians.
Michael Brantley posted a -3 DRS and 0.5 UZR in left field, making him the “best” defensive outfield starter for the Tribe. Jason Kipnis has a -1 DRS and -0.8 UZR in center while Melky Cabrera has a -7 DRS in right (though UZR did surprisingly give him a 0.1 mark). Needless to say, outfield defense (and speed) is an issue.
Greg Allen will undoubtedly take over for Kipnis in center late in games and Brandon Guyer may in right (though a shoulder injury could slow him down) but that still doesn’t give enough speed or defense in the outfield of a playoff game that could decide the fate of the entire season.
Now, Erik Gonzalez is not a bad runner or defender in his own right. He posted a 1.1 BsR in just 143 plate appearances and managed to swipe three bases on the year. He can play all over the diamond including all four infield positions and the outfield and rated out close to average just about everywhere. He even hit 30-percent better than Davis in 2018 (80 wRC+). He’s a perfect bench player…for the regular season, not the playoffs.
Gonzalez is not better defensively than any of the four infield starters and he isn’t going to be put in the outfield as a defensive replacement. While he’s a better runner than Josh Donaldson or Yonder Alonso, he’s still not better than a Rajai Davis (who can be used as strictly a pinch runner).
Gonzalez’s only real use in the playoffs would be as an emergency replacement due to injury on the infield. If one of Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez goes down, things could get a bit dicey. But are you really going to add a player who should never see the field just because there may be an injury?
And it’s not like there are no other options up the middle. Kipnis could move back to second base or even Yandy Diaz if Kipnis is out of the game (he’s played there in Cuba). Donaldson has played shortstop as recently as 2017 and even Yan Gomes has infield experience in the big leagues. The Indians have plenty of emergency infield options should the worst possibly scenario happen in the series.
Bottom line, for as much as I love Erik Gonzalez and for as solid a year he had as a utility infielder, he simply has no business being on the playoff roster for the Cleveland Indians. At least not over Rajai Davis who could be the Tribe’s Terrance Gore late in a game.
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That speed can change/win a game. The choice for the 25th and final playoff spot for the Tribe has to be Rajai Davis. It’s the only logical choice and the correct one.