Ask Alex: Will Alex Avila be an All-Star again?

Alex Remington
Big League Stew

We all have questions about the 2012 season and Alex Remington luckily has some answers. The Stew's resident stats guru will address some of the big ones as the year progresses.

The Situation: It's fair to say that Alex Avila came out of nowhere to be one of the best players in baseball last year. In 133 games in 2009 and 2010, the Detroit Tigers catcher had hit .237/.327/.383 with 12 homers — not bad for a 23-year old backstop, but not particularly good by any other measure. Then he exploded last year for 19 homers and a .295/.389/.506 batting line, leading all catchers in OBP and slugging. (That's not counting Mike Napoli, whose career year came while splitting time at first base and DH.) Avila was an All-Star and a Silver Slugger, and if he can repeat his production from last year, then along with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers may have the most devastating middle of the lineup in baseball.

The Question: Will Alex Avila be an All-Star again in 2012?

The Analysis: It wasn't a surprise that Avila succeeded. Last year wasn't technically the first time that Avila had success at the major league level. He scorched the ball during his first cup of coffee in 2009, with a .965 OPS in 61 at-bats over 29 games. Moreover, he has very strong baseball bloodlines. His grandfather Ralph left Castro's Cuba and became a pioneering scout in the Dominican Republic for the Los Angeles Dodgers; his father Al is the Tigers' assistant general manager, who, while working with the Marlins, signed Edgar Renteria, Livan Hernandez and Miguel Cabrera.

Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball
Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball

So it wasn't a shock that the Tigers drafted him. They actually selected him twice, first in 2005 and then again in 2008, after he had completed his sophomore year at the University of Alabama. However, to avoid the appearance of impropriety, his father actually walked out of the draft room. (The Tigers drafted his brother Nick in 2011, and attempted to draft his brother Alan in 2008 but Alan rejected the draft offer and chose to go to college.)

Still, no one could have expected Alex Avila to succeed this quickly. And many still question whether he'll be able to keep it up. Avila benefited from good luck on Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) last year, but that helped to make up for his tough 2010, when he was extremely unlucky by the same measure. He has a very good walk rate, but Fangraphs' Howard Bender notes that his relatively high strikeout rate, high swing-and-miss rate, and low contact rates all likely point to a lower batting average in 2012.

However, analysts agree that his power is legitimate.

As Kurt Mensching of Bless You Boys wrote:

One thing that shouldn't surprise anyone, and won't change dramatically, is that Avila's power is not a mirage. Avila always handled the bat well, and hit 12 home runs with .185 isolated power in Double-A Erie. He showed flashes of that power in 2009 during his six-week call-up, too.

For his part, Avila isn't thinking about the 2012 All-Star team, saying:

I" don't really have goals as far as statistics or making an All-Star team and things like that... That's stuff you can't really control. Results happen from the work you put into it, so really what you can put into it is your work ethic and what you do physically to get your body ready and what you do as far as preparation mentally before games."

The Forecast for 2012: Alex Avila is probably headed for a junior slump in 2012, and he probably won't make his second straight All-Star team, if for no other reason than the fact that Carlos Santana, Joe Mauer, Mike Napoli, and Matt Wieters are also strong candidates. Avila's numbers will look less gaudy with a low batting average even if his power means that he is likely to remain a very productive player for the team. That's what the major projection systems think, too. ZiPS is the most pessimistic, predicting a .254/.348/.420 line with 14 homers; CAIRO likes him a bit better, predicting .270/.360/.451 with 12 homers; and as usual, the Bill James Handbook is the most optimistic, projecting .277/.376/.477 with 19 homers.

Obviously, catcher is a tough position to play, and Avila was very dinged up after playing 141 games last season. His homer total clearly depends on the number of games he plays. If he plays 140 games, I think he'll hit 15-18 homers. His batting average certainly will decrease, however, and I think CAIRO is on the right track. I'll predict something around .260/.350/.440. That may not be quite enough to get him to the All-Star game, but it will still make him one of the best catchers in baseball.

More sports news from the Yahoo! Sports Minute:

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Other Ask Alex questions for 2012
Can Michael Pineda keep his ERA under 4 in the AL East?
• Can Adam Dunn return to 30 home run territory?
• Can Jason Heyward return to his rookie form?
• Can Matt Kemp go 50/50?

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