Leading up to the 2013 season, I'm going to write player profiles about key members of the Detroit Tigers. This is the first installment featuring catcher Alex Avila.
2012 Season: 116 G, .243 AVG, 9 HR, 48 RBI
Detroit Tigers starting catcher Alex Avila, 25, had what some would call a disappointing season in 2012 due to his bat and injuries.
After coming off an incredible season in 2011 when he batted .295 with 19 home runs and 82 RBI, expectations were high for him to have a strong offensive season in 2012. Unfortunately, he fell short.
Avila, son of Tigers assistant GM Al Avila, was an All-Star in 2011 and took home the Silver Slugger award for the best offensive catcher in baseball.
Avila soon found out that 2012 was a completely different year for him as he battled injuries. Even when healthy, he had to sit out games due to his subpar hitting.
While Gerald Laird is a good backup catcher, he shouldn't play more than two to three games a week. Yet with Avila's struggles at the plate last year, manager Jim Leyland had no choice but to insert Laird into the lineup.
So, which Avila should the Tigers expect in 2013?
While I believe Avila will be better offensively than last year, he won't be able to approach his 2011 numbers.
This shouldn't be considered a disappointment—catching is a demanding position, and he excels at other aspects of his game.
Avila's handling of the pitching staff represents his true value.
An example of how good of a catcher Avila is was on full display in the 2011 postseason. Avila had to go out to the mound in Game 2 of the ALCS to help calm down Max Scherzer. Greg Bishop of the NY Times explains how Avila helped Scherzer get back to what makes him successful.
The advice that changed the complexion of this game — and perhaps this American League division series — came from the Tigers' Alex Avila, at times as much a psychologist as a catcher to the pitching staff. Avila and Scherzer agreed that the pitcher was too relaxed. He needed to speed up, increase the tempo.
That was Avila: steady hands, steady head and, for the most part, steady feet, too.
Bishop also goes into detail about how Avila's value goes beyond his hitting by explaining the impact Avila had on Scherzer as a pitcher.
What Avila helped Scherzer with this season, what turned Scherzer into a key piece of that complicated trade two years ago, was less reliance on his fastball, power mixed with deception.
So, while 2012 looked like a bad year for Avila, he didn't let his offensive troubles affect him defensively.
Avila's fielding numbers support how strong he is behind the plate. In 2011, he had only seven passed balls behind the plate and a .995 fielding percentage. In 2012, he had 10 passed balls to go with a .994 fielding percentage.
Avila's hard work earned him nominations in 2011 and 2012 as a Gold Glove finalist, but unfortunately he ended up losing both times to Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters.
Avila's handling of the talented Tigers pitching staff is impressive. When you factor in his age, you start to understand how good he really is. Detroit fans are lucky to have such a humble and grounded player to cheer on.
In the 2012 postseason, Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press spoke with Avila about how the Tigers' starting pitchers were performing: "The job our guys have done to this point has been amazing."
That quote is a glimpse into Avila's personality. He talks only about the staff even though Leyland correctly gives credit to Avila as well.
Leyland said the credit shouldn't go just to the starters. He said Avila's job of calling pitches for Anibal Sanchez in Game 2 was as masterful as he had seen in a while—the righty threw seven shutout innings and gave up just three hits.
Leyland's faith in Avila is supported by Avila's CERA (catcher earned run average). Avila's CERA in 2012 was 3.60—an improvement from 2011, when he still had a very good 3.88 CERA.
If Avila continues to play like this behind the plate, I expect him to take home a Gold Glove award in 2013—the first of many Gold Glove awards in his career.
2013 Prediction: .265 AVG, 12 HR, 68 RBI