2.6 WAR, .243/.352/.384/.736, 9 HR, 14.1 BB%, 24.0 K%, .313 BABIP, 434 PA
Alex Avila, the husky backstop from the University of Alabama, entered the 2012 season a full time major league starter for the Detroit Tigers having just come off a 2011 season where he started strong, made the All Star team, then finished with a strong OPS of .895 and a 4.9 WAR. This led some to believe he could, quite possibly, find his name brought up when talking about the best overall catchers in baseball. The argument was there. He was certainly an iron horse behind the plate in 2011 as he donned the tools of ignorance for 1157 innings, which was the most in baseball save for Arizona’s Miguel Montero. Despite taking all manners of abuse from wild pitches to foul tips he had his best month in August when he smacked 15 extra base hits (seven of which were homers) and put together a .360/.472/.697/.1.169 line in 109 plate appearances. In September he dropped off, but not by much; the power regulated itself (nine extra base hits, two homers) and the slash line fell to a, still respectable, .289/.381/.446/.827.
Then 2012 arrived.
I think we all remember this fondly.
That was April 8th and down 12-11 against the Boston Red Sox in the bottom of the 11th, Avila launched that bomb to give the Tigers their first walk-off win of the year. Avila, it seemed, started the year on a high note.
From April 8th
The Detroit Tigers came from behind twice to tie the game before finally nailing the Red Sox coffin shut in the bottom of the 11th inning, in what was arguably the most exciting game in Comerica Park since Magglio Ordonez sent the team to the World Series in 2006. In a game full of heroes (and goats), Alex Avila was the final and most important one. His walk off two-run home run won the game and swept the Red Sox back to Boston, dirty and winless…From the way he takes pitches until he gets the one he wants to drive, to the way he can snag a ball out of the dirt when he is behind the plate, he is a special player to watch and at least a name to remember when you think of the best Tigers players.
I wasn’t simply responding to the drama of the game when I wrote that last sentence. The way Avila plays is pecial. He slows the pace of the game down, which is something not many players do. 2012 looked like a prime opportunity for him to explode onto the scene both offensively and defensively.
But the season had other plans.
From May to October, injury found Avila wherever he turned. From the flu to the Patella Tendon, from the hamstring to a blow to the jaw he couldn’t escape that nagging wife, The Injury Bug. While a player will never use that as an excuse it is a reason that Avila saw 2012 turn into a season of disappointment.
His best month was May, when he had nine extra base hits (two of them were homers) and had a slash line of .278/.363/.443/.806 in 92 plate appearances. But that was the last month he cleared 83 plate appearances in a 30 day span. The final three months of the season he played somewhat consistently, and he got on base (his on base percentage in the second half was .368) but his power was pretty much gone. He was that character in Final Fantasy that needed a health and a potion but just couldn’t find one no matter what he did.
In the end, his final game spent much like the rest of the season. In pain. He ended up sitting out game four of the World Series due to a sprained right wrist a sour end to a sour season.
Some will look at his 2011 and suggest that his .366 BABIP was an outlier and he would come down to earth in 2012, which is what he did. His BABIP last year was a respectable .313 and the difference in actual batting average, .295 to .243 reflected that. However, his True Average (what Baseball Prospectus coins as: how well opposing batters have hit a pitcher. It takes the pitcher’s park, league, and situational-based hitting into account.) was .313 in 2011 and .260 in 2012. In short: Avila faced much tougher pitching in 2012 than in 2011. One would expect this to average out to about .280, such as one would expect his BABIP to average out to roughly .340, and his standard batting average to even out to about .270. Going into 2013 a reasonable person would anticipate Avila’s production landing somewhere in between his 2011 and 2012 season.
Avila’s true talent is his power and his ability to get on base, i.e. walking a ton, and perhaps someday soon he will be slotted in the second spot in the batting order instead of 6th, 7th, or 8th, where his 35% on base percentage will actually be utilized by the heart of the order, rather than left stranded by the Omar Infante’s and Quintin Berry’s of the world.