Should the Tigers be all in with Alex Avila behind the plate?

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

A catcher who can hit is not required to win a World Series, but it can sure help. Alex Avila hasn't been that guy.

It's an ominous statistic, if you believe in those kinds of things. But if you don't put a lot of trust in numbers, then the stat you're about to read is on the same level as a black cat crossing your path — it's nothing more than a superstitious myth.

Since 2000, the 14 World Series winners had production from their catcher that averaged 16 home runs, 66 RBI, and a .274 BA.

In 10 of those 14 years, the catcher either met those averages or exceeded them. And in the remaining four years, the catcher was a passenger on the team, dipping below the mentioned mean.

Alex Avila has not only been a passenger in recent years, he's been riding coach.

Avila, the Tigers backstop who showed so much promise in his All-Star year of 2011, has since seemed to break down physically, often during the most important time of the year (post-season). And currently, Avila is in the midst of turning in his third-straight sub-par season.

In 2012 and 2013, Avila's average production per year was 10 home runs, 48 RBI, and a .235 BA. In 2014, his limp noodle of a bat is on pace to muster 11 homers, 38 RBI, and a .221 BA.

That means a typical Avila year — since his All-Star glory — looks something like this: 11 HR, 45 RBI, and a .233 BA.

I doubt you'll need to bring in a mathematician to see that Avila's numbers fall well below those of the average catcher from the past 14 world champion teams.

The Tigers are 715 in their last 22 games. It's been a total team collapse. Avila's not the sole reason for it, clearly. He is not, to use a Jim Leyland term, the Lone Ranger.

But Avila is one of many Tontos who are not getting the job done. And the past 14 World Series champions prove that a solid stick is needed behind the plate.

Avila, when he's on, has one of those smooth, effortless left-handed swings that is compact and full of punch. He's just not "on" very much.

How much longer can the Tigers wait to see, definitively, if Avila the All-Star was merely an aberration?

The Los Angeles Dodgers teams that won four pennants and a World Series between 1974 and 1981 did it by mainly using Steve Yeager as catcher. Yeager wasn't much of a hitter; his career BA was .228. He had some occasional pop in his bat, but for the most part, Yeager was a drag on the lineup offensively.

The Dodgers were able to work around their catcher's lack of productivity with seven other position players who were pretty dynamic plus a cache of pitchers (starters and relievers) that few teams in the National League could match.

But Yeager's Dodgers aside, most championship ball clubs since World War II didn't have catchers whose bats were suspect. It has long been a position of soft talking and carrying a big stick.

Whether it was the Yankees of Dickey, Berra, and Howard; the Dodgers of Campanella and Roseboro; or the Red Sox of Varitek or Saltalamacchia, there has often been a stud hitter calling the signals.

Even the Cinderella world champion of 2003, the Florida Marlins, got into the act when Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, in his only season playing in Miami, hit 16 homers, drove in 85 runs, and batted a solid .297.

In fact, you can make the case that Pudge's one year in Florida was the key to that Marlins team winning the whole enchilada both from an offensive and leadership standpoint.

Now, is this to say that the current Tigers can't win the World Series with Alex Avila flailing away in the batter's box? No, but it sure would help if he somehow found a way to end what is becoming a three-year slump.

It's beginning to look like Avila's 2011 (19 HR, 82 RBI, .295 BA, .895 OPS) is the aberration and the norm is what we've been seeing since then.

He swings late on juicy fastballs. His sense of the strike zone fluctuates between highly competent to totally clueless. The sight of Avila walking back to the dugout, that look of disbelief on his face, is becoming common place.

Worse is that the Tigers are a team that badly needs production from the left side of the batter's box, which only serves to highlight Avila's struggles.

Defensively Avila is solid not great, but solid. He's not Bill Freehan, but he's serviceable. Tigers pitchers speak glowingly of his ability to call a game.

That's super, but baseball history says that you need a catcher who can swing the bat, too.

That aggregate average since 2000 of 16 homers, 66 RBI, and a .274 BA for World Series-winning catchers isn't Silver Slugger stuff but it's still so far above what Avila has been giving the Tigers since 2011.

It's not unfair to ask whether Avila should be entrusted with being the catcher going forward. It's perfectly fine to have daydreams about what catching prospect James McCann might be able to do in Detroit.

The Tigers, despite their current struggles, probably still have what it takes to survive a mediocre Central Division. But isn't it time to seriously question why they keep having to win the division despite their catcher, instead of because of him?

Wally Joyner, in his first year as Tigers hitting coach, has himself a whale of an enigma in Avila, who is the kind of player that could provide a hitting coach with a defining moment.

Or maybe Avila is beyond repair. We'll see.

Meanwhile, the Tigers soldier on, trying to win an elusive World Series with a catcher whose bat is made of balsa wood.

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