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Alex Avila disappoints at plate, excites in field

Every weekday between now and mid-November, we'll be looking closer at a Tigers player. For more information on the series, including a schedule, please check this post out.

Alex Avila's hot debut in late 2009 set up unrealistic expectations for his first full season in the MLB this year. Still his success -- or lack of -- at the plate would have disappointed even more modest appraisals. Meanwhile, in just his third year of professional baseball and fourth year as a catcher, Avila made nice steps forward working with his pitchers and controlling the running game.

Despite some negatives, Avila salvaged his season. Definitely, he has something to work with.

Grade: C.

At the plate:

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
104 333 294 28 67 12 0 7 31 2 36 71 .228 .316 .340 .656 79
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/10/2010.

He managed to get on base, but lacked some of the power he'd shown previously in his career.

Avila's OPS ranked him 15th in the American League among catchers with more than 100 at-bats. He started off the season ice cold with just three hits in 31 at-bats, and an OPS of just .372 OPS. He rebounded to an average bat in May (.713) and June (.778) before falling off again in July (.472). He was back in the 700s in August and September, but went hitless in October in 8 at-bats. He disappointed with runners in scoring position, hitting just .201 with a .601 OPS.


Mitigating factors? Avila spent a lot of time trying to improve as a catcher and pitch caller, so he may not have spent as much time working on batting as he should have. He had a bit of bad luck as well.

In the field:

20 runners caught stealing in 63 chances (32 percent). He was debited for six passed balls in 757 innings.

His caught stealing percentage would have been tops in the AL among regular catchers if Avila was, in fact, a regular catcher. As is, he was brought along slowly and only became a daily catcher the final two months or so.

As a fan, it's hard to judge how well he worked with the pitchers. His catcher's ERA, which I'm not sure is all that good of a stat to judge by, honestly, was slightly above the ERA of the pitching staff.

What 2010 tells us about 2011:

Short prediction: He'll be better in 2011. Which is good, because the Tigers appear to be looking at him as the primary catcher.

I look at a few things and see some hope for Avila: His line drive rate of 21.5 percent was pretty decent. He cut down his strikeouts, too. His BABIP of .278 seems out of line, and that makes me think he should have had a few more hits drop in and had a better experience at the plate overall. I would think he'll improve in that regard next season. I think he's growing into a decent catcher too and expect any prior fears about his abilities there will be forgotten by the end of the season.

However, his lefty-righty splits make me think Avila will benefit from having a right-handed batter to balance his struggles against lefty pitchers. I don't feel like the Tigers have to go out and spent a lot on a starter, but they can't just bring anyone in either.

But like I said, overall I think he has the potential to grow into a pretty decent overall catcher. The Tigers did good in finding him.

Resources:

I used Baseball Reference, ESPN.com and Fangraphs for my stats.