Growing up, I always wanted to be a catcher. There was just something about wearing all the equipment and getting to handle the ball on every pitch that made me want to be behind the plate. Now that I’m older and know a little more about the game of baseball, I realize that it’s not all that glamorous. It’s a lot of hard work and it will take a toll on your body — just ask Detroit Tigers’ Alex Avila.
Avila knows all too well about the beating you get behind home plate. To this day, I have yet to see another catcher take a beating like Avila, always getting foul balls hit off him or getting body slammed by Prince Fielder (that really happened, look it up).
In 2011, he played in 141 games for Detroit, and most of them behind the dish. He had a career year, hitting .295 with 82 RBIs and 19 home runs despite his horrific end to the season where he fell apart at the plate, which explains his 131 strikeouts.
He was simply used way too much down the stretch of the season, which manager Jim Leyland owned up to.
Coming into 2012, the team and fans were really high on Avila, hoping that he would build off his best season as a professional — but that didn’t happen. He hit .243 with 48 RBI and nine home runs, a huge drop off from his totals the year before. He was clearly played less in 2012 possibly because of the results the year before, but it could have also been because Avila’s backup Gerald Laird hit .282 in 63 games for the Tigers.
So far this year in Spring Training, Avila has had the same issues. He’s struck out 11 times in 28 at-bats, with only eight hits over 13 games.
Everyone knows Avila has great defense and can call a great game behind the plate; hence the two no-hitters he’s caught, and one “kinda” perfect game (Armando Galarraga’s perfect game blown by umpire Jim Joyce) —although I’m sure it’s a lot easier when you have Justin Verlander throwing to you.
Even with his defensive skills, though, Avila has to produce on offense or Detroit could be in some trouble, because Laird won’t be there this year to pick up that slack.
I personally think that he can bounce back in 2013 if he takes some advice from his skipper. Leyland has said that Avila needs to swing more, which might sound kind of silly to most, but it actually is a problem. When he gets in a favorable count as a hitter, he needs to swing more and not take so many pitches — the exact opposite advice that most managers would give players.
If he can do this, he might be able to bounce back and have a season like in 2011, where he was a legitimate threat at the plate.