2014 Player Capsule: C Alex Avila

As the offseason is upon us, TigsTown starts to take a look at the key contributors from the 2014 season and what their 2015 outlook is. First up is Alex Avila, who despite his detractors, has proven to be a solid big league catcher for the Tigers. However, will concussion issues prove to be a greater issue for Alex and the organization?

Alex Avila 2014 Year in Review

2014 Projections and Performance
Perf/Proj PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 455 2.4 .237 .311 .340 .397 .325 -3
Steamer 424 2.5 .246 .312 .345 .412 .334 5.5
Oliver 600 2.6 .229 .301 .324 .381 .315 9.7
Actual 457 2.1 .218 .322 .327 .359 .311 15.3

While many of these projections can vary wildly from player to player, pretty much all three services had Avila pegged quite well. There was a bit of variability on his batting average as he definitely hit the low end of that, but the consensus was that Avila would be a roughly two win player with average offense and good defense, and that’s exactly what he was.

Avila was worth five runs per Defensive Runs Saved and while fans continued to clamor about his batting average, he actually improved his on-base percentage by ten points compared to 2013 despite his average falling ten points, directly related to him improving his walk rate to 13.3%. Avila was also able to catch 124 games for the Tigers despite the concussion issues that sidelined him along with the beating that impacted the rest of his body behind the plate, the most he had caught since 2011.

Among MLB catchers, Avila is behind the elite and very good catchers in baseball that were all worth at least three wins including the likes of Jonathan Lucroy and Buster Posey, but is among that next group of ten that was good for roughly two wins, including Dioner Navarro and Brian McCann, in addition to himself. It’s solid company to be around, and is nowhere near as some Tigers fans clamor that he is.

Alex Avila 2015 Outlook

Contract Status: $5.4 million club option for 2015 ($0.2M buyout)
Free Agent ETA: 2015

While Avila has found quite a few dissenters, he’s shown himself to be a more than serviceable catcher, with above average defense and close to average offense, despite fan frustrations about his continued poor batting average. A catcher approaching his late 20’s that is worth 2-3 wins per season is usually a player you hope to have a number of good seasons left in still. That is not the case with Avila.

Continued concussion issues remain a cloud hanging over Avila’s head, literally and figuratively. You’d ideally love to be able to sign him to an extension this offseason that would buy out the first couple years of his free agency, and then see how things are progressing both for him as well as for internal alternate options. Such a move right now however is simply too risky – there’s no telling what sort of head trauma Avila might suffer next year, how that will impact him, and how the rest of his body will hold up.

The Tigers can certainly hope to get another year or two out of Avila, but the time is rapidly approaching for the club to begin scenario planning for a time without Alex behind the dish most days for the team.

2014 Projections came from three different sources; ZiPS, Steamer, and Oliver, all publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers, and Oliver Projections from Brian Cartwright.

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