When it comes to the Detroit Tigers, there are plenty of lightning rods: Phil Coke, Joe Nathan, Justin Verlander, and Alex Avila are the first names that come to my mind. People see the .218 batting average that Avila has put up over 53 games, the lowest among any regular starter at the moment (excluding Andrew Romine, because Eugenio Suarez has taken regular reps at shortstop this week). When you add that to 4 HR and 14 RBI and a struggling offensive team, some people question Avila’s spot in the lineup.
If you only look at batting average, home runs, and RBI’s you would think Avila has been terrible this year. If you look deeper at some of the stats, you would see that Avila has been better than you would think. In 156 at bats Avila has 28 walks, 3 more than Victor Martinez who is second on the team with 25 walks in 246 AB’s. Avila’s walk rate takes his OBP to .348 which is good for 3rd on the Tigers of players with 100 AB’s trailing Victor Martinez (.389) and Miguel Cabrera (.373). Avila’s offensive WAR because of his OBP is 0.6 which is ahead of Torii Hunter (which speaks to how bad Hunter has been at the plate lately) and the shortstop committee.
Defensively, this has been Avila’s best year to date. Through 52 games, Avila’s defensive WAR is 1.1 which is best among catchers this season and projects him to 2.8, a full 1.5 WAR ahead of his 2012 season where he had a dWAR of 1.3. If you are not into the advanced stats, Avila has thrown out 40.4% of stealing runners this year. This CS% is good for 3rd in baseball behind Yadier Molina and Brian McCann. Defensively, Avila is rated the best catcher in the AL this year for a team that ranks toward the bottom in most defensive statistics.
If you put your stock into catcher’s ERA (ERA of pitchers with Avila catching), Avila’s cERA is 4.07, good for 11th among qualified catchers in all of Major League Baseball. 4.07 happens to be the exact same cERA of Bryan Holaday.
Avila may seem frustrating at the plate, especially with his strikeouts, but he has been on base at a rate only Cabrera and Martinez have bested. Defensively, he has been the best catcher in the game. Avila has handled the pitching staff, exactly like Holaday. Alex Avila is not the problem with this team.