Right pitch. Wrong location. With two outs, two strikes, a runner on first base and a 12-11 lead over the Tigers on Sunday, Boston's Mark Melancon snapped off a curveball to Alex Avila. While Detroit's backstop is coming off a 2011 season in which he trailed just Mike Napoli among catchers in OPS+, he entered play yesterday with a career .149 batting average, a .234 slugging percentage and zero homers against curveballs (the league averages are .229 for average and .352 for slugging). Melancon, meanwhile, had held hitters to a .123 average and a .170 slugging percentage on curves.
In theory, throwing Avila a curve was a good idea. In practice, it gave the Tigers a walk-off win in the 11th inning and a series sweep. Melancon caught the fat part of the plate, and Avila made him pay:
Avila can be beat high and away and low and away, but he pummels pitches below the belt and over the inner half of the plate. Check out his career slugging percentage by pitch location:
Avila has already established himself as an elite hitter by showing great plate discipline and crushing fastballs (a career .512 slugging percentage, compared to the .435 league average). If he can start going deep on breaking stuff, he could overtake Napoli for the title of best-hitting backstop in the AL.