The Tigers have had several excellent catchers wear their uniform over the years. From Mickey Cochrane to Bill Freehan, Lance Parrish to Ivan Rodriguez, the Tigers have a rich history of backstops who have been above average players on both sides of the ball.
Alex Avila does not belong in this pantheon. But he has been a valuable member of the Tigers franchise over the past several years, even after his monster 2011 season. This year was no different for the Tigers' oft-maligned signal caller. He put up 2.1 WAR in 124 games and ranked fourth among starting catchers in the American League with a 34 percent caught-stealing percentage. Offensively, Avila struggled, hitting .218 with a 33 percent strikeout rate. However, he also walked in 13.3 percent of his plate appearances, giving him a .327 on-base percentage that was 13 points higher than the league average of .314.
With the departure of Brayan Pena in free agency last offseason, Avila knew heading into the season that he would have to shoulder a greater workload in 2014. This manifested early, as Avila started 15 of the team's 21 games in April and 68 of their 91 games in the first half. He struggled during the first couple weeks of the year, striking out in 14 of his first 23 at-bats.
Things improved quickly, though. Avila caught fire in mid-April and was very productive over the next month as the team jumped out to their now-infamous 27-12 start. From April 16 to May 18, Avila hit .250/.370/.441 with a pair of home runs, both against the Kansas City Royals. While he may not have looked poised to return to 2011 form, it definitely seemed like Avila was going to provide more offensive punch than he had in previous years. The .812 OPS did not last for long, but Avila was able to hit .237/.344/.400 from mid-May until the All-Star break.
And yet, some fans did not appreciate what they were seeing. Avila had a .728 OPS and seven home runs at the All-Star break. He had also thrown out 35 percent of attempted base stealers, doubling last year's 17 percent caught stealing percentage. Avila was also dealing with plenty of pressure on the basepaths; he led the league with 36 base runners thrown out in all of 2014.
Like most catchers, however, Avila's offensive numbers fell off as the season wore on. He hit just .201/.304/.323 with four home runs in the second half, a .627 OPS. MLB catchers as a whole saw a solid drop-off from the first to the second half, indicating the kind of beating they take behind the plate.
In Avila's case, this was more than just bumps and bruises. Avila dealt with concussion issues throughout the season, missing games on three separate occasions. He was hit in the head by a David Ortiz backswing in June, but only missed one game. In early September, Avila was shaken up by a foul tip against the Cleveland Indians. The team denied a concussion -- though he was suffering from headaches -- but Avila missed three games. A couple weeks later, he was hit in the head by a swipe tag on the basepaths and missed a full week of action with another concussion.
Avila was knocked out of the ALDS early by another foul tip, leaving many to question his future in a Tigers uniform. Team physicians have already cleared him, and it seems that Avila will be ready to go in 2015 despite the health risks detailed by armchair physicians across the fanbase.
The poll below is going to be laughably varied. Avila might be the most polarizing player on the Tigers' roster, and his performance in 2014 did nothing to quiet his critics. However, he was a solid contributor, posting 2.1 WAR in 124 games. It was the second time in three years that he has amassed at least two wins above replacement. Most of this is due to his defense, but he has also gotten on base at a .333 clip over the past three years. The Tigers will likely pick up Avila's $5.4 million contract option for 2015, and all signs point to Avila being a valuable contributor at a bargain price again next season.