September 7, 2012; Anaheim, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila (13) is congratulated by third base coach Gene Lamont (22) after hitting a solo home run in the third inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
One of the key storylines for the 2012 Tigers has been the underperformance (or, perhaps, the perceived underperformance) of several key regulars. Specifically included in that group are often Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn, Brennan Boesch, Jhonny Peralta, and Alex Avila. Each of these players played a key role in the success of the 2011 version of the Tigers, and the bar was set high – probably too high in many cases – heading into this season.
But while I can understand scorn for Young, Raburn, Boesch, and to a certain degree Peralta, I don’t quite get why Avila so regularly gets lumped in with the rest.
No, he’s not quite having the same year that he had last year when he hit .295/.389/.506, but he’s still handling himself well defensively behind the plate, and he’s providing plenty of value as a batter as well. His current line of .245/.359/.389 is good for a wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) of 107 (meaning he’s been 7% better than league average as a hitter). That number would play anywhere on the diamond, but it’s especially good considering the MLB average wRC+ for catchers is just 94 (the only worse-hitting positions this year have been second base and shortstop).
Here are some more 2012 league average numbers for more context into Avila’s hitting prowess (numbers via FanGraphs):
Designated Hitter: 115 wRC+
<———- Alex Avila: 107 wRC+
First Base: 105 wRC+
Right Field: 104 wRC+
Left Field: 103 wRC+
Center Field: 103 wRC+
Third Base: 99 wRC+
Catcher: 94 wRC+
Second Base: 89 wRC+
Shortstop: 86 wRC+
So, yeah. I’m not keen on complaining about a catcher who’s performing well enough to be an above-average hitter at power positions such as first base and corner outfield.
Avila can (and has) hit for more power than he’s shown this season, but he’s still displaying his top-notch patience and getting on base at a near-elite level (he’s 7th in BB% among hitters with 400 or more PA). Of course we would like him to return to being the patient hitter with the crazy power like he was last year, but even if he never again matches those extra-base numbers, he’s still destined for a long and successful career. He may never be a guy with a consistently high batting average, but he still excels at the most fundamental aspect of hitting: avoiding outs.