2015 Player Previews: C Alex Avila

Alex Avila had a solid 2014 season, but gave the Tigers (and everyone concerned for his well-being) a scare in September when a blow to the head sidelined him with a concussion, and recurring concussion-like symptoms. What should the Tigers expect out of him in 2015, and can his body hold up?

2014 In Review

2014 Alex Avila Stats
Detroit 124 457 2.1 97 .218 .322 .358 .327 .359 13% 33% 0/3 5 15.3

Avila’s season was remarkably similar to his offensive output in 2014 – a low batting average with a high strikeout rate, but balanced by a great walk rate (that got even better) and isolated slugging just under 0.15. He also appeared in 124 games, the most he had appeared in for a season since his career-year 2011. His league average offense, coupled with very good defense resulted in him being worth roughly two wins, a solid showing for a catcher, as it ranked him 16th in MLB.

Avila’s injury issues popped up again however, putting a damper on what would otherwise be an encouraging step in the right direction for the now-28-year-old, especially defensively. Concussion issues sidelined him for much of September, and even raised doubts about his future career and whether or not he could keep playing. He silenced those concerns shortly into the off-season, but the injury bug remains a worry moving forward – between ailing knees and now concussion concerns, his health will be watched closely.

After the season ended in November, the Tigers elected to pick up Avila’s option for 2015 at $5.4 million, still a relative bargain compared to what most above average catchers made.

2015 Player Projections

2015 Alex Avila Projections
Service PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 454 2.3 .229 .320 .333 .379 .317 -1
Steamer 392 2.4 .230 .313 .331 .374 .317 10.5

The projections are remarkably consistent, which shouldn’t be terribly surprising given how consistent Avila was between 2013 and 2014. Both services anticipate Avila to hit around .230 again with a great walk rate and solid power production, resulting in identical .317 wOBA forecasts, which would likely result in a slightly above average offensive performer, if the recent trend of the last five years holds into 2015.

The areas where the two services disagree are on Avila’s defense, along with the number of plate appearances he’ll rack up. Steamer is optimistic that Avila will continue to be a very good defender, while ZiPS forecasts Avila to return to average, or possibly slightly below. All necessary caveats about defensive metrics for catchers apply. ZiPS also sees Avila getting more plate appearances while Steamer is less optimistic. Some of this could come down to how much manager Brad Ausmus decides to use Avila and who is reserve option is.

The TigsTown Take

The forecasts are all very reasonable, and those hoping for a resurrection to his 2011 performance are likely past the point of no return – Avila’s patience at the plate gives him a great walk rate, but also can put him in pitcher’s counts, in which he’s likely to swing and miss. As his knees have taken a beating, he’s lost some of the power he once had, but can still drive the ball when he stays back in his stance and makes solid contact. Defensively, he works great with the staff, calls a good game, and does a good job framing and getting his staff calls. When he’s available to catch, he’s a very good option for the Tigers, but most onlookers would agree that it’s a race against time at this point before something on his body gives out – he may be 28, but catcher’s bodies rarely hold up, and five straight years of 100+ games behind the dish have taken their toll.

Avila should be a reliable option for the team again in 2015 and be worth a couple of wins, but it’s hard to say how many more years Avila has in him.

2015 Projections come from two different sources; ZiPS, and Steamer, both publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, and Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers.

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