by Simon Jones
In the latest of my off-season series, exploring the less publicised downside of some of 2012s most hyped players, I’ll be looking into the dangers of drafting Alex Avila too early.
No matter how you look at it, Alex Avila’s 2011 fantasy campaign was an unqualified success. Going undrafted in many leagues, he managed to put up an OPS of .895 which was ranked second amongst qualified catchers (behind Mike Napoli) and in 5×5 categories, his overall line matched or bettered everyone other than Napoli and Victor Martinez. Having just turned 25 and hitting in a Tigers line up that includes Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, there is plenty to like. So why am I concerned heading into 2012?
My first concern is Avila’s 2011 workload. He started 130 regular season games plus 11 more in the playoffs, racking up 1,255 innings behind the plate. Only Yadier Molina caught more in 2011. The effects of such a workload were plain to see throughout the playoffs.Avilawas clearly troubled by knee tendonitis and only managed 3 hits in 41 at bats. Although Avila is reportedly healthy heading into spring training, you have to worry that there may be some lasting consequences further down the road. Catchers carry an inherent injury risk and you only have to look at the struggles of guys like Joe Mauer to see where this might lead.
There is also a big difference in the Tigers heading into the 2012 season. At this point last year they hoped to make the playoffs. This time around they expect to be there. The rest of the AL Central is in disarray and the Tigers are heavy favourites, especially with the acquisition of Fielder. There is no way that the Tigers want a repeat of 2011 withAvilacontributing so little in the playoffs. This time around they will want to keep him much fresher, so expect Gerald Laird to pick up one or two starts a week. I wouldn’t expectAvilato approach the 551 plate appearances he got in the 2011 regular season, in fact I could see that dropping to 500 or less.
I have other concerns about the peripherals that made up that 2011 line. The .295 average was off the back of a .366 BABIP which you wouldn’t expect to be sustainable. The K% of nearly 24% is also too high for my liking, The good news is that he knows how to draw a walk, but there looks like some regression risk across the overall numbers.
My other worry is that because he had this outstanding 2011, many people feel he has proved that he will continue to be this hitter. It is possible that he has matured and grown into these numbers as he has gathered more experience, but the numbers are markedly different to the 2010 campaign where he only hit for a .228 average and a .656 OPS in over 300 plate appearances. I am not going to be convinced until he can put up back-to-back seasons of serviceable stats.
I thought it would be interesting to draw comparison to another big league catcher.
Avila 2011: 551 PA/ .295 AVG/ .895 OPS/ 19 HR/ 82 RBI
Geovany Soto 2008: 563 PA/ .285 AVG/ .868 OPS/ 23 HR/ 86 RBI
Soto’s strikeout rate that year was 21.5% and he also had a similar walk rate to Avila of 11%. Soto was drafted in the Top 100 in 2009 but failed to pass 400 PAs in 2009 or 2010 and hasn’t come close to that 2008 value since. It is a cautionary tale for anyone who seesAvilaas the finished article and is tempted to reach for him after the first 4 or 5 catchers are off the board.
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