If you’re looking for help at the catcher position, now is the perfect time to start looking at buying low on certain guys. Regular backstops such as Russell Martin, Geovany Soto and even Brian McCann are struggling out of the gate and it’s probably time to start putting in a few offers and see what it would take. But what about Alex Avila? After struggling as a rookie, Avila turned things around last year and put up a tremendous stat line that vaulted him into this year’s preseason top ten and turned him into a highly coveted commodity on draft day. Now here in his third full season, he’s posting a woeful slash line of .220/.303/.424 and people are starting to wonder if last season was for real or just a fluke. Is he a good buy-low candidate?
The biggest concern that most people had walking into this year was just how much of last season’s production was aided by a potentially unsustainable .366 BABIP. He had a solid 13.2% walk rate and there was nothing in his batted ball data that indicated something unusual going on. Even his contact rates and swing percentages were all in line with what he had done in previous years, both in the majors and minors. Sure, the strikeout rate was a little higher, but that’s to be expected in a young player who is hitting for power. The only number that seemed “off” was his BABIP.
In looking at his numbers this year, he’s swinging at fewer pitches, both inside and outside the zone, and making less contact. On top of that, his GB/FB shot up from a 0.93 to a 1.58 and while his LD% looks good, he’s doing an awful lot of mashing the ball into the dirt. Consequently, he’s sitting on a .256 BABIP which has dragged his batting average down to an unpleasant .220 mark.
So now the question is, can he turn it around? If his swing percentages were out of whack, I’d immediately say yes. I would chalk up the month of April to a youngster trying to do too much and is therefore just hacking away. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. It’s not like his SwStr% is any different from what it’s been the last two seasons.
No, this seems to be a case of a player, not just making less contact, but not even making good contact when he connects. The heavy ground ball load is more indicative of his performance two years ago, and while his GB% and FB% should regress to the means a little here, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to revert back to last year’s splits, but closer to the splits form the year before. If that’s the case, then that BABIP isn’t going to climb that much higher and certainly not even close to the stratosphere in which it sat last year. That means you can kiss that .295 batting average goodbye.
Working in Avila’s favor though is the power. He’s got three home runs right now with a .203 ISO which is right on par with what he produced last season. Hitting 15-20 home runs is still well within reach. But don’t expect more. He’s only 25-years old and still may have some power to develop, but given the way he is hitting the ball now, even with a slight improvement in batted ball totals, he’s not likely to advance further in the power department. Maybe next year or the year after, but it doesn’t appear as if now is the time.
The way I see it is this — if you’re willing to buy low on a guy like Soto, then you should be willing to buy low on Avila. You just have to temper your expectations and know that you’re not getting a .290 guy who will hit 20 home runs here. You’re picking up a guy who will probably hit no higher than .270 and maybe hit another 13 or 14 home runs the rest of the way. It’s certainly nothing to look down your nose at given some catchers’ production, but definitely not worth the price you would have probably paid on draft day.
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