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Montero and Avila: Catchers for the Stretch Run

It’s time to put those personal feelings aside and do what you have to do to make that final push. So what if these guys stunk it up for most of the season and caused you nothing but grief and aggravation. Put the past behind you and focus on what they are doing right now, because with either of these guys in your lineup, you’re sure to see a nice offensive boost from what has been somewhat of a disappointing season for most backstops.

Jesus Montero didn’t come out of the gate like a lamb, but he wasn’t exactly a lion either. Expectations diminished with his trade to Seattle, but he still managed to hit four home runs by the end of April. The .259 average had little to be desired, but there’s usually some understanding for rookies, particularly those who are also still learning a position as difficult as catcher. But May and June saw him head downhill and by the time the All Star break rolled around, he was batting .245 with just eight home runs and 28 RBI while missing time with a minor concussion. He was labeled a disappointment by most and even relegated to waiver fodder in shallow leagues.

But then we came back from the break and suddenly Montero was turning his season around. He hit safely in five of his first six games back with four multi-hit performances, a home run and eight RBI. He went on to have one of his best months of the year, batting .300 with a pair of home runs and 12 RBI, raising his season-long average to .263.  Even more impressive was the 10.0% walk rate (up from 2.2% the month before) and the 13.8% strikeout rate (down from 25.8%) all with a .328 BABIP which was comparable to June’s. And he’s now done the same here in August, already batting .361 with six multi-hit games out of nine and a slight increase in his ISO mark. He’s become a better, more patient and more efficient hitter — similar to who he was in the minors — and should continue his ascension through the remainder of the year.

Alex Avila has taken a similar path this season. After posting such phenomenal stats for a catcher in 2011, expectations ran high for the 25-year old backstop who promptly squashed the hope of fantasy owners everywhere after batting .242 with just five home runs and 23 RBI in the first half with strikeout rates no lower than 22.8% in any given month. His walk rate climbed in May which not only helped the on-base percentage, but also gave hope that he was starting to work things out. But he got hurt and missed most of June and, like Montero had frustrated his owners enough to the point where they were giving up on him.

But after the break, Avila also turned his season around. His walk rate continued to increase, he dropped his strikeout rate to under 20.0-percent, and since the break (95 PA) Avila has hit .321 with seven doubles, two home runs, 12 RBI and 17 walks. Both his line drive and fly ball rates have improved dramatically at the expense of his previously agonizing ~50.0-percent ground ball rate. And his BABIP, which has been a very favorable .400 over the last month, has his season long mark at .335 which is probably where it should stabilize based on his minor and major league track record.  August has started off exactly as we hoped and it looks like the 2011 version we all coveted has finally returned.