Which Tigers hitter is most fearsome? That's an easy question to answer. Miguel Cabrera is an absolute beast, a monster of a man who makes contact, can take a walk when teams don't want to pitch to him and hit the baseball a long way when those same teams don't want him too.
Which Tigers fielder is most fearsome? Also an easy question. After all, everyone knows that 75% of the earth is covered by water... and the other 25% is covered by Austin Jackson.
And so it would be easy to expect Yankee fans to dread facing Cabrera at the plate and Jackson in center. That dread is by no means misplaced. But there's another player the Yankees should not want to face at all, whether at the plate or in the field. His name is Alex Avila. And he is the best catcher in the American League.
Avila is the total package: he's a well rounded left-handed hitter without a very obvious platoon split, he hits for power and average, he gets on base and his defense is solid to above average. Let's break these down after the jump to explain to the Yankees just why Avila should give them chills.
I could just tell you that Alex is hitting .295/.389/.506. Of course, without context, those numbers are useless. Doubters will point to Avila's absurdly high batting average on balls in play (currently sitting at .366) and will forecast that his batting average will collapse. Those same doubters might also look at Avila's strikeout rate (he K's in 23% of his at bats) and his sudden jump in Isolated Power (from .112 to .211) and forecast that the kid is just getting lucky. Of course, this would be wrong. He isn't.
Avila might be in over his head when it comes to batting average, but his expected batting average on balls in play (xBABIP) normally sits around .330. He got unlucky last year and he's getting lucky now. This means his average should sit at around .270 or .280. His walk rate is superb: he walked 13% of the time this season- and the strikeout rate is high, but not so high as to hurt his overall performance. And that huge power spike? For those of you who followed Avila in the minor leagues, remember that he was projected to have good power. The bat is the real deal.
And that's not the only reason the Yanks should worry. Avila hits righties to the tune of .304/.403/.536- but still fares well against lefties, hitting a "mere" .273/.349/.430. Considering the Yankee rotation (with the exception of ace CC Sabathia) leans to the right, that's good news for the Tigers. Furthermore, Avila tends to use the entire field when hitting- he has a tendency to take the ball to center field, but he also fares pretty well hitting the ball to left and right field. His bat should play well in Yankee Stadium, which is seen as friendly to lefty power.
Four catchers have caught stealing percentages above 30% this season. Miguel Montero, Matt Wieters, Wilson Ramos and... Alex Avila. Avila may have come in fourth there, but the ability to shut down the running game (and to keep a leash on Yankee speedsters Brett Gardiner, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter) might prove to be invaluable.
There are few reliable defensive metrics to confirm what Tigers fans know: Avila is a reliable defensive catcher, and a welcome presence behind the plate. He tied for third at his position with only five errors this season, his fielding percentage of .995 was fifth in baseball, he was seventh in range factor, ninth in zone rating and only allowed seven passed balls, which put him in a tie for ninth.
Baseball Prospectus also notes that Avila was awesome at pitch framing. According to their calculations, he saved Detroit sixteen runs, good for second in major league baseball.
Regardless of what you think of fielding metrics, Avila has proven himself to be pretty good in the field; a constant presence, waiting to catch sneaky baserunners on the move and willing to lay himself down to block a runner or a wild ball.
Alex Avila is the breakout star on a loaded Detroit team. Nobody saw this coming at the beginning of the season, but Avila looks like he's here to stay. Yankees fans need to be wary of the young star- he just might be looking to prove something on a national stage in the playoffs.