Projection Series: C Alex Avila


Over the next few weeks, I will review Tiger players by position and try to project, using modern day baseball metrics, their expected performance for the upcoming season. Like John Verberg’s Prospect Series, this should be a fun exercise that gives a nice overall view of the Tigers big league club, in their quest to win a world championship. I will be using an aggregate of fangraphs projections, which are typically pretty accurate. I will also be using fangraphs WAR formula. Typically, they have ZIPS and MARCEL up as well, but for some reason they have yet to be published this year. Fangraphs also incorporates the reliable Bill James, RotoChamp, and also fan projections, which are surprisingly reliable. Using an aggregate of these projection systems should us give a nice middle ground. Without further adieu, here we go!

2012 Aggregate projection
530 PA 18 HR 74 RBI 13 BB% 22% K .193 ISO .328 BABIP .272/.369/.465 .834 OPS -2 Fielding OVERALL: 4.7 WAR

Why he may exceed projection
Alex Avila really burst onto the scene in 2011 as one of the elite catchers in baseball. Avila put up 5.5 WAR last season, which was the most in all of baseball for catchers, except for Mike Napoli who didn’t play the position full time. At just 25 years old Avila is just entering the prime of his career and still has room to grow as a player. Alex’s BABIP was an unsustainable .366 last year, mostly due to an extremely high .354 average on fly balls, (league average is around .135), the good news is, Avila still has more room to grow into his power. A wise man once told me that letting the ball travel, staying behind the ball, and letting your hands do the work gives you the ability to not only pull the ball, but also hit it to the opposite field. Avila, with 5 HR.’s to LF last season, and 3 more to center, demonstrates that he possesses the ability to drive the ball the opposite way, which is an approach well beyond his years. When Avila is hitting the ball with power to left-center field, it’s virtually impossible to get him out. With that being said, Alex should continue refine his approach this season, and raise his BB%, while lowering his K%. He may even hit a few more HR. This should result in similar production numbers to last season, even with the expected drop in BABIP.

Why he may do worse than projection

Avila’s unsustainably elevated BABIP is the main reason why he may perform worse than last season. Like I said before, his .366 BABIP last year was actually higher than BABIP monster Austin Jackson and ranked 6th among all qualified hitters baseball last season. With just two full season under his belt, it’s difficult to determine how much power Avila really has. In his first considerable stint with the Tigers in 2010, Avila had a .112 ISO, while last season, that number surged to .211. Typically ISO is one of the most stable metrics, so it will be interesting to see if Avila’s power surge last year was a fluke. Avila destroyed fastballs last season, putting up 24.5 runs above average vs. the heater, which ranked 17th in all of baseball, he also mashed against the change up to the tune also 8.4 runs above average, which ranked 6th in the league. He didn’t fare as well against breaking pitches, so I’d expect that he’ll begin to see a steady diet of those in 2012. In conclusion if Alex’s balls put into play begin to find some gloves, and he doesn’t display as much power as last season, he may struggle a bit in 2012.

My projection
Alex has been one of my favorite Tigers since he was selected into the drafted in 2008 from the University of Alabama. My favorite type of hitter is someone who has great plate discipline, walks, and also hits for power. That is because those numbers are the least likely to fluctuate, and even though Alex did have an extremely high BABIP last year, he is still likely to maintain an .800+ OPS in the future, even with a diminished BABIP, just due to walking and hitting for some power. Like I said earlier, if Avila is staying behind the ball and hitting to the opposite field, its likely many of these drives should have the loft to carry out of the park. I expect that while Avila’s BABIP will drop, he will walk more often, and strike out less, therefore allowing him to maintain about the same OPS as last season.
My 2012 projection: .270/.380/.470 and about 5 WAR, pretty similar to the aggregate.