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Alex Avila: Can He Repeat 2011?

Alex Avila has been one the great surprises of 2011. Coming into 2011, his full time job as the Tiger’s catcher was in doubt after they signed Victor Martinez. Alex jumped out to a hot start and finished as one of the top catchers in the league in 2011. Looking forward to 2012, his fantasy value looks to be changing.

One feature of Avila that is known is his home run hitting ability. In about 400 MLB PA before 2011, he had 12 HRs. This season, he has hit 19 HRs in 539 PA. The ball is definitely leaving the yard when he hits it. There is no reason to think it will change in the future.

The second known feature about him is that he is slow. An owner should expect no more than 2 to 3 SBs in a season. Any more than that is just gravy.

The key to Avila’s future value is his ability is to maintain a high AVG. Here is his AVG, BABIP and K% for his 3 MLB seasons and career:

2009: 0.279, 0.308, 25%
2010: 0.228, 0.278, 21%
2011: 0.295, 0.367, 24%
Career: 0.269, 0.329, 23%

First, the increase in 2011 AVG is not from a drop in K%, which went up, but from a near 90 point increase in BABIP. Here is his xBABIPs over the same time frame:

2009: 0.320
2010: 0.331
2011: 0.331
Career: 0.330

I see a little theme going on here. Alex seems to hit for a BABIP around the 0.330 level. A 0.330 BABIP would be consistent with his career average BABIP and xBABIP values. It would seem like an AVG of around 0.280 (AVG = BABIP – 2 * K%) would be a good 2012 bench mark.

Alex’s fantasy value may be a little higher in 2012 because of his position in the Tigers’ batting order. In the first 121 games, he hit either 8th or 9th in the lineup. After that point, he hit 6th. Moving up in the lineup gives him 2 advantages. First, for each spot he moves up the lineup, he would get an extra 20 PA over an entire season. He would look at getting around 20 to 40 more PAs. Also, he would have more RBI and Runs opportunities with better hitters around him.

In 2012, I see Alex’s overall will be nearly the same. The categories where he has value looks to shift from AVG to more counting stats (HRs, Runs and RBIs).