Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gr8: #2 Alex Avila, Titanium Catcher

The “Great Eight of 2011” will be a look at the eight Tigers that impressed me the most in 2011. The order I am choosing these players in is not necessarily who the best overall player was. No, these guys are simply the ones that made me say “wow” more than anyone for whatever reason.

If before the 2011 season you would have told me that the Tigers’ catcher would hit .295/.389/.506 with 19 homers and 82 RBI, I would have responded, “Wow, V-Mart’s not going to hit .300? That sucks.”

But no, we’re not talking about Victor Martinez. We’re talking about Alex Avila who surprised everyone with his breakout season as the Detroit starting catcher this year. I thought it was foolish to hand the starting job to a guy that hadn’t earned it and/or proved he could handle the job. But Your Party Host (and I wasn’t alone, dammit) was thankfully wrong as Avila showed that he has the stuff to be one of the top catchers in all of baseball for years to come.

And as grueling as a job as catching is, speaking as someone that’s done it, it’s remarkable that the kid not only had such a good season, but he did so while starting an amazing 135 games (130 at catcher). That’s unheard of nowadays. Thus, the death of "Captain Nepotism" nickname and the birth of "The Titanium Catcher". I believe Matthew Mowery, one of the few Tigers beat writers I enjoy, first coined that one.

And until it all caught up with him in October, Avila looked to be a machine out there. And he answered ALL the important questions about his game.

Can he hit lefties enough to justify playing full-time?

Indeed he can. Avila hit .273 against southpaws overall and .308 against left-handed starters.

Can he handle the strain of starting over the long haul?

Yup. Avila in the 2nd half put up a .306 average and an unbelievable .409 OBP. Even Ryan Raburn admired his 2nd half efforts.

If Avila struggles once pitchers adapt to him, does he have the ability to pull himself out of it or will he just sink a la Brennan Boesch in 2010’s second half?

Yes he does. Avila struggled in July hitting only .197 for the month. He responded by going off in August to a .360 clip shutting up the naysayers that said his All-Star first half was a fluke.

What else can I say about the guy? He hit .290 with RISP. He played solid defense. He earned the trust of his talented pitching staff. He can even grow an entire beard by the seventh inning stretch.

And he finished 12th in the AL MVP voting. If you told me before the season began that Avila would finish that high? I would have assumed that YOU were high.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that Alex Avila in 2011 surprised me more than any Tiger player I’ve seen over the years, with the notable exception of Cecil Fielder’s amazing 51 homer season out of nowhere back in the day. And I think that’s high praise for Avila considering how long I’ve been following this team.

So a sincere thanks to Al’s boy for an amazing season. Let’s hope he can do it again and avoid becoming the next Matt Nokes, which I’m sure many may be thinking about him. Avila’s already shown that he’s quite good at proving people wrong. I’m sure he’ll be ready to do so again in 2012.

Let’s just try and get the poor guy some rest down the stretch this time, okay?

/insert “Gerlad Larid sucks” joke here


Trout Jefferson said...

The likelihood of him hitting .295 again is pretty low thanks to a ridiculously high BABIP of .366. But I think the power will remain, so he's likely to stick around the 15-20 HR range and 70-80 RBI range.

Pawsdeep said...

.270-.280 isn't out of the question. Plus, his eye is amazing. I fully expect him to keep a really solid OBP