40 in 40: Boston Red Sox Player Profiles: Mike Aviles

Mike Aviles was acquired by the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline last season and he played in 38 games with the team last season, seeing time at shortstop, third base and even right and left field. His versatility has always been a great asset but in 2012 he will likely settle into the role of the Red Sox full time shortstop. Early this year, the Red Sox moved incumbent SS Marco Scutaro in a deal with the Colorado Rockies largely to shed salary. Much to the ire of manyBostonfans an writers, this move left Boston with Aviles and fellow utility player Nick Punto atop the short stop depth chart.

While his style of play is outside the typical Red Sox model, his athleticism and excellent contact can add up to a dynamic and effective player. In his 2008 rookie campaign,Avileshit .325/.354/.480 in 441 plate appearances with 10 home runs and 8 stolen bases on his way to a fourth place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting. A dreadful sophomore slump resulted in a minor league demotion and the Royal’s moving him off the shortstop position. He rebounded in 2010, and then struggled again in 2011 prior to the trade that brought him toBoston. The up and down roller caster that has been Mike Aviles career is largely a part of his hitting style.

Hitting

Mike Aviles stands out in a line up with hitters like Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez. Unlike so many of his teammates,Avilesrarely walks and has an aggressive free swinging approach at the plate. He has walked just 4.2% of the time in his career and he swings at a very high number of total pitches seen- 51.3% (league average last season was 46.2%). He goes outside the zone frequently, 35.4% last season against an average of 30.6% but he gets by with this hyper aggressive approach with an excellent contact rate of 85.3% on his career. He swings and misses just 7.2% of the time, which while not quite Pedroia good, is still well above average.

This all contact, no patience approach combines with his low-average power to makeAvileshighly subject to the whims of fate on balls in play. In his excellent rookie season he hit .357 on balls in play. In his dreadful second season he was punished with a cruel .223 BABIP. As a player who can only get on base with a hit,Avilesneeds more luck on his side than his more patient team mates. A full season in Fenway may be helpful; for a righty like Aviles who is able to use the whole field, the monster turns a few extra fly outs into hits and the expansive right field lets a few extra bloopers fall in. However, the effects of the park will not be enough to sustain a productive season for the 30 year old short stop.Avilesneeds to hit ‘em where they ain’t, plain and simple or else he could be in for a long season.

Defense

The Royals organization is very different from the Red Sox. GM Dayton Moore is known as one of the less progressive team leaders where advanced statistics are concerned. The Red Sox, under both Theo Epstein and now Ben Cherington have been extremely aggressive in their implementation of such statistically base systems. As a result, the fact that these two organizations take the polar opposite view of Mike Aviles fielding abilities should not be a surprise. After a 2008 season where UZR creditedAvileswith 11.7 runs saved and Total Zone credited him with 6 runs saved, the Royals moved him to second base and eventually acquired Yuniesky Betancourt (career -48.8 UZR and -21 TZ) to play short in his place. The strange side effect of this already strange evaluation has been that many, many people seem to believeAvilescannot handle shortstop. Given the largest sample size available, the advanced metrics still thoroughly disagree.

This is not to say that the Royals are clueless fools or that UZR and TZ have things perfectly figured out.Avilesis a below average defender at 2B by the same statistics in almost the same sample size. In a very small sample, those same stats are negative on his fielding at third base. Typically, we expect to see good shortstops perform as well or better at the two positions immediately down the defensive spectrum but inAviles’ case, the opposite has happen. It is very possible that this is simply because he has too little playing experience outside of the short stop position, making his sense of positioning weaker away from his most practiced position, but it may also be that UZR and TZ are off on his true abilities. It will take more time at shortstop for that to become clear andBoston, unlikeKansas City, appears willing to give him that time.

Overall, Mike Aviles is a solid player. He is probably more suited to the utility role he was originally acquired for than for the role of an every day player, but that doesn’t mean he will be a poor player. His defense is really going to be the key in 2012. If he is the player that the metrics think he is, his middling power and strong contact skills make him a solid, if somewhat risky option at a position where the bar for offense is not terribly high. However, if he is truly unable to play average or better shortstop day in and day out then only a great stroke of luck that guides his batted balls safely to the outfield grass can keep him playing everyday.

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