Willie Davis was a fantastic defensive outfielder for 18 seasons in Major League Baseball. He debuted with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1960 and would end up taking over center field from Hall of Famer Duke Snider. While Davis wasn’t the most consistent offensive player, he hit for a batting average over .300 three times and hit at .280 or higher ten times. While batting average isn’t as revered as it once was, Davis didn’t walk much at all, so those hits were important to his overall value on the offensive side of the baseball. Davis also popped a few home runs and consistently hit 20+ doubles a season, even leading the league in triples (with 16) in 1970.
Davis won three Gold Gloves, but when considering his defensive metrics, he probably should have had more. Baseball-Reference has him compiling 10.9 of his 54.5 career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) from his defense alone. FanGraphs rates his defense higher than his offensive WAR contributions, due to using TotalZone marks that rate him extremely high. There were no Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) stats in those days and Fielding Bible doesn’t go back that far. Anecdotally, it’s pretty well established that Davis was one of the best defensive center fielders in Dodgers history, so the advanced statistics certainly back that up.
Playing for the LA Dodgers from 1960-1973, Davis had one more good season for the Montreal Expos in 1974. In 1975 he found himself hanging on with the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals. Davis played in 141 games with the San Diego Padres in 1976. Afterwards, he bounced around the minors in 1977 and 1978. For his last Major League action, Davis got into 43 games for the California Angels in 1979.
While Davis was not a Hall of Fame caliber player, he was extremely good. If he had won more Gold Gloves, which he definitely would have won purely by the metrics we have today, it’s possible his name would’ve been in more contention for a Cooperstown plaque. Sadly, Willie is no longer with us, as he passed away at age 69 in March of 2010.
Thanks for the memories, Willie. May you rest in peace.