November 2nd, 2011

Avila is lone Tigers Silver Slugger winner

Alex Avila missed out on a Gold Glove award. He will gladly take a Silver Slugger instead. The Tigers, too, will take a win over Mike Napoli.

With a big first season as a full-time starting catcher, Avila took the mantle for the American League’s best offensive catcher from the oft-injured Joe Mauer. The All-Star beat out Napoli, Matt Wieters and others to earn the Silver Slugger award at his position, the only Tiger to do so this season.

Avila is the first Tiger to win the Silver Slugger at catcher since 2004, Ivan Rodriguez’s first season in Detroit. He’s the first catcher other than Mauer to win the honor since 2007, when Jorge Posada won it.

“To be considered the best offensive catcher is great,” Avila told MLB.com Wednesday night in a text message, “and it’s an achievement I’m very proud of.”

It wasn’t necessarily an easy decision for AL managers and coaches. Though Avila earned the All-Star start at catcher on his first-half roll, and never had the huge falloff that some might have expected, he also had to deal with catchers who heated up down the stretch. None got hotter than Napoli, who hit .383 with 18 home runs and 42 RBIs after the All-Star, including .429 with eight homers in September. Though Napoli made just 57 starts behind the plate, he played there more than he did at any other position.

Wieters, who beat out Avila for the Gold Glove as announced Tuesday night, also made his case based on power. He homered 12 times in August and September and posted an .840 OPS over the season’s second half.

In the end, though, nobody showed the consistency that Avila displayed, surprisingly so for a 24-year-old dealing with the wear and tear of more starts than any other AL catcher. He actually built on his first-half numbers by hitting for a higher average, near-identical slugging percentage and a higher OPS after the break.

Avila, ironically, is a friend of Napoli.

“We’re from the same area in south Florida,” Avila said, “and he had a great season, but it doesn’t make it any better. Being a Silver Slugger is pretty good on its own.”

Tiger catchers have won 10 of the 32 Silver Sluggers since the award began in 1980. Half of those went to Lance Parrish, who added a sixth as an Angel in 1990. Rodriguez, Mickey Tettleton and Matt Nokes also won at least one Silver Slugger in a Detroit uniform.

Detroit had three other realistic candidates for Silver Sluggers, but all lost out in what looked like crowded fields and tough decisions for managers and coaches. While reigning Silver Slugger first baseman Miguel Cabrera won a batting title with a late-season tear, it came too late to sway voters to choose him over Adrian Gonzalez.

Jhonny Peralta led all AL shortstops in batting average and OPS, but his former teammate in Cleveland, Asdrubal Cabrera, had the advantage in hits, RBIs and runs scored. That earned Cabrera the vote, making him the first Indian to win a Silver Slugger since Grady Sizemore in 2008 and the first Cleveland infielder since Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar in 2000.

Though designated hitter isn’t a defensive position, it’s a Silver Slugger award, and it pitted Victor Martinez against former Red Sox teammate David Ortiz this year. Martinez had the higher batting average, finishing fourth in the league at .330, but Ortiz had better run production numbers to win his fifth Silver Slugger at DH. Those two will likely have a similar competition going when AL media members vote for the outstanding DH award.

Tigers shut out on Gold Glove awards

Austin Jackson’s Fielding Bible award in center field will have to do as the Tigers’ defensive honor for the season. Jackson and catcher Alex Avila were left winless when the Gold Glove awards were announced late Tuesday night.

Jackson and Avila were among three finalists listed at their respective positions by ESPN2 in a press release promoting the special on the network to announce the awards. But Avila lost out to Baltimore’s Matt Wieters, while Jackson finished behind Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury.

Major League managers and coaches vote on Gold Glove honors.

While Avila’s day-in, day-out work earned him a good amount of respect, Wieters had the statistical advantage of fewer passed balls and wild pitches on his watch while throwing out a higher percentage of would-be basestealers. Ellsbury and Jackson were very comparable on traditional statistics, though Jackson had an impressive resume in more specialized stats.

Avila still has a chance at an end-of-season award. The Silver Slugger awards, which lean on the offensive side at each position, will be announced Wednesday night at 6pm ET on MLB Network. Avila and Mike Napoli both have solid cases at catcher, while first base should be an interesting debate between Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez and Paul Konerko. Jhonny Peralta and his former Cleveland teammate Asdrubal Cabrera are candidates at shortstop.

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