Alex Avila has Earned a Day Off
By Chris Hannum
I don’t mean today’s travel day, I mean that Alex Avila shouldn’t start Saturday’s game 6 behind the plate. Alex Avila has not been himself in the postseason, even after yesterdays home run his playoff OPS sits at .290 with 3 hits, 2 walks and 15 strikeouts in 40 plate appearances. Why? Everyone is well aware already, Avila is playing hurt with tendinitis in the knee. Unfortunately, the position that he plays is going to aggravate that injury more than playing any other position would and Avila has started every single game behind the plate for Detroit this October including 4 straight days this week. That isn’t something teams usually subject a catcher to. Even Napoli, who isn’t hurt and has been swinging a great bat, was given a game at DH this series.
Part of this might boil down to the misguided belief that the more a team needs a player to be healthy, the more that player should be asked to play hurt. This is faulty logic – the Tigers wouldn’t be where they are today without Avila’s unexpected offensive contributions during the regular season, that’s a given. But he isn’t a .295 hitter with patience and power right now, he’s an .081 hitter (with patience and power) and he isn’t helping the team by swinging and missing. The Tigers might be out of the ALCS and waiting to see who wins the beer battle to face them in the World Series if Avila hadn’t been trying to play through the pain – these have been some very close losses defined by a lack of offense on the Detroit side. Not necessarily, but maybe: his postseason WPA is -0.636.
Part of the problem, of course, is that Victor Martinez is as badly damaged if not more and can’t fill his previous role in giving Avila a breather. But there is another option, it would just take guts. Omir Santos, a right-handed, 30-year-old journeyman catcher is still occupying a playoff roster spot but has yet to play at all in the postseason. I understand they unwillingness to put him in against world class southpaws like C.C. Sabathia, and Avila does not hit left-handed pitching poorly in general, but not all lefties are C.C. Sabathia. On Saturday the Tigers will be facing Derek Holland’s ‘stache and left arm once again after driving him out in the third in game 2 (with a sadly inadequate 3 runs on the board). Holland has one of the largest career L-R splits that you will ever see on a major league starter (bringing into question whether he should be a major league starter). Lefties have put up a .240/.300/.345 line over his career, righties have hit .279/.344/.468. What’s more, he has been much worse at home in Arlington – having an (un?)fortunate propensity to give up bombs. Ogando will be back, and nobody can hit him, so the Tigers need to pile the runs on Holland early with a righty-loaded lineup. Alex Avila is in agony out there and if ever there was a situation that would allow Santos to passably impersonate a real major-leaguer just for a day, this is it. Leyland, PLEASE give Avila at least a few innings to rest those knees.