Alex Avila: Should You Buy Low?

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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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com


10 Responses to “Alex Avila: Should You Buy Low?”

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  1. drewcorb says:

    And ESPN had Avila ranked over Mauer before the season started. What a terrible organization.

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    • Shaun catron says:

      ESPN is the same site that always had Carl Crawford overrated. Matthew Berry is the fantasy version of Dane Cook. No talent.

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    • jake says:

      That’s why I come to Fangraphs, the site that is never wrong about anything ever.

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  2. Dan Out West says:

    Not sure that I’d call a .727 OPS from of a starting catcher woeful. The BA isn’t pretty, that’s true, but last year that value would place him 6th amongst catchers (those with enough ABs for the batting title), between Wieters and Buck. And even this season, he has a wRC+ value of 102. That said, he’s still a good bet to finish with an OPS at or above .800.

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  3. Bremm says:

    I assumed he was injured. He posted very good numbers up until Apr 14th, and after that time is only 5-for-34. In that Apr 14th game he took a 93 mph foul ball flush to the right bicep. It was a pretty wicked hit. After taking a game he off he came back and was 0-for-4 with 3 Ks the first game and hasn’t produced much since. Maybe he’s swinging less because he’s actually physically finding it difficult to swing, or it’s affecting his timing. Either way, I’d give him more than two weeks to shake it off.

    As far as his plate discipline numbers, yes- his contact rates are down. His swing-and-miss % is in line with his career, as is his swinging-at-strikes %. What I found interesting was that he’s seeing fewer strikes than normal- BIS has him at 39.8% strikes and pitch/fx at 45.2%. He’s only swinging at balls 16.7/17.7% of the time (which is below his career numbers), and considering the small sample size, it’s hard to really put much stock into the numbers after only a month because he’s not putting many balls into play. When he does put them into play, his line drive rates and ground ball rates are way up from his career numbers simply because he’s not hitting nearly as many fly balls.

    So far in the month of April in 59 ABs he’s put 42 balls into play- 11 have been line drives, 19 have been ground balls, 12 have been fly balls. 3 of those fly balls were home runs. 13 have landed for hits. That’s not exactly a huge sample size. The .256 BABIP has to improve as well.

    I’d buy low. Those aren’t terrible numbers. It’s way too early to say that he can’t turn it around or come close to what he did last year.

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  4. Scott Clarkson says:

    I would definitely buy low. He is still showing a very strong ISO and even a modest babip improvement up to the .280+ range would inflate the triple slash a good deal. Add that to the fact the Tigers offense has been sputtering and I see him being the beneficiary of some crooked numbers put up by the Tiger’s Offense in the near future as far as counting stats.

    Am I crazy to think that last year’s high babip guys are actually a market inefficiency in FG friendly leagues? Everyone looks at these players w/ skepticism headed into the draft and everyone is ready to write an epitaph when the babip swings the other way for any period of time. If you did a little amateur regression on his 2011 and expected something more like a .270BA 18HR campaign w/ a chance at elite counting stats for the position given the offense around him I think there was a chance for a tidy profit on Avila for this season in terms of productions vs. draft position. If you can buy low from a panicking Avila owner you may see a .290+ BA the rest of the way as the babip corrects and 5/6 of his likely HR for the season are still waiting to be hit.

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  5. wookietaco says:

    Would you still trade Saltalamacchia for him?

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    • Howard Bender says:

      I think their power will be close, but Avila should ultimately finish with the better average, so I would say yes.

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  6. slick says:

    I know it’s a crazy thought, but maybe just maybe, it’s between the ears. Sometimes you lose your stroke and it’s hard to find again.

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  7. bluethree says:

    And 4 games later he’s hitting .278/.366/.514.

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