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Entries in Alex Avila (4)


Alex Avila's Walk-Off

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:

Location of Avila's walk-off HR, 4/8/12

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's 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.


Catching Grind Leading to Grounders for Avila?

Detroit's Alex Avila squatted behind home plate for 1,157 innings during the regular season, the second-highest total in the major leagues. All of those backswings, foul tips and even small fires could be catching up with the 24-year-old as he plays deep in the playoffs following his first season as a full-time starter with the Tigers.

The lefty hitter had a .295 average, a .389 OBP and a .506 slugging percentage during the regular season, leading qualified MLB backstops by a wide margin in the latter two categories. But in the playoffs, Avila has a ghastly .080/.148/.080 slash in 28 plate appearances. It's a very small sample size, of course, but the catching grind might be leading to lots of grounders for the convert who began his college career at Alabama as a corner infielder.

Avila has put 16 balls in play during the postseason, and he has chopped 12 of them into the infield grass. He's either pulling the ball to the right side or weakly tapping back toward the mound:

Avila's ground ball spray chart in the 2011 playoffs (one grounder is missing from the chart)

By contrast, Avila hit a ground ball just 38 percent of the time during the regular season, well below the 43 percent league average. Considering that Avila, whose knees seem to snap, crackle and pop with each step, might not be able to beat Jim Leyland in a foot race right now, hitting the ball on the ground is a surefire way to end up limping back to the dugout.


Jered Weaver Head Hunting

Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim received a six game suspension on Tuesday for throwing at Alex Avila of the Detroit Tigers.  Note that Weaver is not afraid to pitch inside to left-handed batters.

Jered Weaver, pitching inside to lefties out of the strike zone, 2011.Compare that to the league average:

MLB, RHP inside to LHB, 2011.Weaver tends to come farther inside than most righties, and up and down a bit more.  His high pitches usually end up over the plate, not near the batter's head.

Look where he threw the pitch to Avila:

Jered Weaver pitch to Alex Avila, July 31, 2011 (pitch labeled 1).That is not where Jered normally pitches when he misses.  It's off the chart.