As night turned to day and the sun slowly rose in west we were graced with a new top rated shortstop, breaking Derek Jeter’s stronghold. It was bound to happen eventually, unless Jeter had another 1999 type season, and will certainly happen again, but I don’t think anyone could foresee who would take over a month into the season.
Mike Aviles isn’t a household name. I’m sure most of the population of the greater New England area would have trouble picking him out of a lineup. He’s hitting like he desperately wants that to change. Through the first month of the season the 31-year-old has a line of .291/.330/.535. He already has five home runs. His career high is 10, set in 441 plate appearances in 2008. His 17 April RBI are a career high for a single month. Is he doing anything different than he has in the past? Let’s take a look.
My first inclination was to look at his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) to see if it had taken a suspiciously high jump. It’s sitting at .290, so that’s certainly not the case. Next I took a look at his plate discipline numbers. It’s there we can see that things have changed a bit. He’s swinging far less than any time in the past. Of pitches outside the strikezone he’s swinging at just 27.7 percent, much lower than his career mark of 33.1 percent and slightly lower than the current MLB average of 29.2 percent. Even the percentage of pitches inside the zone, and his overall swing percentage, are down from his career levels. Every contact percentage is down as well. When Aviles actually is swinging the bat he’s making the most out of it. Swing rates are one of the quickest things to stabilize, so it should be safe to assume he’ll continue at those levels.
One worrisome item is his home and road splits. In nine home games his OPS is 1.022. In 12 road games its .738, which is actually roughly league average for a shortstop. Fenway has always been a great hitter’s park, so the fact that he’s hitting well there isn’t a big surprise. If he can maintain his road production he should be able to keep an OPS close to or above .800, which would put him in the upper half at his position.
In the spring there were calls, even from his own manager, for Jose Iglesias to get the starting job over him. He wasn’t amongst the top 10 shortstops selected on draft day according to Mock Draft Central. He’s made the most of his opportunity to silence the detractors, shutting them up one home run at a time.
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