Back around the end of May, after a torrid start to the season, I posed the simple question about Tigers catcher Alex Avila — is he for real? At the time of the piece, we looked at his .333 BABIP, his 30.0 K%, his gaudy 17.4% HR/FB and not only wondered if his .250 ISO was the real deal, but if these numbers were indicating an over-achiever who was headed for a significant drop. Well, after watching him the rest of the way and looking at his current .304-17-65, it might finally be safe to say that he is, in fact, for real. Now the question is, what do we do with him next season?
Depending on the rules in your league, chances are Avila will be protected more often than not. His .304 average and .394 OBP lead all qualifying catchers while his 17 home runs rank in the top five behind such powerhouses as Brian McCann, Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana. His K% has dropped since last we examined to a much more respectable 23.4% while his walk rate has increased to 13.1%. And sure, while that HR/FB rate has dropped since the end of May, it’s still at a very favorable 14.8%. Oh, and the BABIP that was supposed to come back down to earth is now cruising in the stratosphere at a .372 mark. Everything has maintained the levels of a top producing backstop and will, of course, put Avila into top keeper consideration.
However, as great as all of theses numbers are, will they maintain from year to year or are we looking at yet another one year wonder? After a breakout, Rookie of the Year campaign and before the injury, Buster Posey was struggling to recapture the magic of his rookie season. Miguel Montero got hurt during his sophomore campaign and failed to produce like he did during his 2009 breakout. And both Geovany Soto and Russell Martin failed to deliver improved totals the years after their breakout rookie seasons in 2008 and 2007 respectively. Even McCann dropped a little during his second full season, although he has, very much, picked it up since. It would seem that the odds are certainly stacked against Avila to repeat this grandiose performance.
Given the above examples and the fact that the position is so taxing and that injuries seem to befall catchers worse than most other positions, you can’t deny that there is some serious risk in protecting Avila next season. Sure, it’s nice to feel secure, walking into a draft knowing that you already own one of the top producing backstops, but whether you actually get those numbers is still a serious question. It’s not that Avila doesn’t have the talent or ability, as he most certainly does. He may not sustain the .300 batting average, but his .228 ISO is legit. The problem lies within the risks of protecting a guy who could very well find himself either hurt or pressing so hard to duplicate a magical rookie campaign. With enough catchers that may come cheaper and can still bang double digit home runs, it might be wise to try and trade Avila in the offseason while his value is so high.