Delayed concussion symptoms, lingering concerns

The day after Alex Avila left the game in Cleveland with dizziness and nausea, I ran into a scout at the airport who had watched the series. He said what several team officials and most any player who has been a teammate of Avila for a decent amount of time has said: Avila takes an amazing number of foul balls off his mask and body. He watches a lot of other teams, and he couldn’t offer up one who takes more punishment.

Teammates who have spent their entire career alongside Avila and teammates who came in from other organizations have said much the same thing. They were saying much the same thing Sunday as Avila dealt with more concussion symptoms. And as players talked, there was a growing concern for Avila, the person as well as the player.

“Obviously, I’m concerned for him,” longtime teammate Justin Verlander said. “I think I’m more concerned personally for him. I’m just really glad the game that he caught [Saturday], he didn’t take one of those patented Alex Avila foul tips right off the face mask. He was able to answer all the questions and he passed his tests, so that’s why he was in the ballgame, but I guess he had some symptoms pop up today. …

“You guys have seen him. He’s taken a beating. He has. Seven days could be really good.”

Scherzer expressed much the same concern Thursday night after the foul tip that caught him in the mask.

There are statistics for a lot of events in baseball, but none for the number of foul balls a catcher takes off his body. You can look at some advanced stats for the pitching staff and try to get clues, but nothing concrete. For instance, Tigers pitchers allow balls put in play on just 37.7 percent of swings that opposing hitters take, the lowest percentage of any Major League pitching staff this year. At the same time, hitters miss on 24.7 percent of swings they take against the Tigers, highest in the big leagues. That adds up to 62.4 percent of swings, leaving 27.6 percent for foul balls. That’s not necessarily a Major League high. The Twins, for instance, have seen 43.4 of opposing swings put the ball in play, but just 18.1 percent of swings miss. However, they’ve drawn more than 300 fewer swings than Detroit pitchers.

Or to use the raw numbers, Tigers pitchers entered Sunday having thrown 17,090 pitches this year. Hitters had swung at 7889 of those, missed on 1945 and put 2974 in play. That leaves 2970 swings for foul balls. Some of them go into the seats, some go into the dugout, some stay in the field, and some obviously go off the catcher.

Victor Martinez was a longtime catcher in Cleveland and Boston before his knee injuries forced his move to DH. He knows the catcher and the position, and he sounded quite concerned.

“I’ve never been around people that suffer concussions. At the same time, I have never been with somebody who gets hit as Alex does, man,” Martinez said. “It’s amazing. He just … “

Martinez paused in mid-sentence.

“It’s not good, man. It’s tough,” he concluded.

Verlander’s point is a good one: Had Avila taken another foul tip off the mask, who knows what would’ve happened?

That sets up the question everyone will wonder out: How was Avila cleared to play? Avila said Friday he passed the tests, and that took the issue too seriously to cheat on them. He underwent a CT scan in Cleveland and apparently passed that. However, he also said he felt terrible after leaving Thursday’s game. He also was initially in Friday’s starting lineup before he had the game off under recommendation. On the flip side, Miguel Cabrera said he saw Avila in the clubhouse Sunday morning — their stalls were next to each other — and didn’t notice anything unusual.

“I saw him,” Cabrera said, “but he looked alright.”

I asked Will Carroll, the sports injury expert who now works at Bleacher Report, about concussion symptoms and Avila’s situation. He confirmed what several medical web sites say: Concussion symptoms can come on days after an incident, sometimes weeks. Other times, the initial symptoms can go unnoticed, including by the person involved.

Whether that’s what happened here or whether Avila tried to play through any symptoms might be tough to clear up, just like quantifying the damage he takes on foul balls. But people know what they see, and they’re concerned right now.

“You have to worry because that’s dangerous,” Cabrera said. “He has to take care of that. Hopefully he can feel better.”

18 Comments

Seriously surprised this didn’t happen before now. Hope it doesn’t linger and he can get back out there as soon as he is able.

I wana say good luck to avila and i hope he is ok. Im sure he will be. Theres no doubt that hes a tough one. Oh and just figured id point out to you jason that that would leave 37.6 percent for foul balls not 27.6. Must of been a typo. Just letting you kno.

hope he feels better. 16RBIs (61abs) and about .800OPS over the past month compared to 3RBIs (28abs) and .740OPS…..so i think we’ll feel it a little at the plate and maybe in the pitching performances…..it is what it is.

First off, excellent report, Jason. The thing is, many of us have talked about this since Avila got here, how all those blows would eventually be harmful. Now it appears to be happening so I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. This is a serious issue and the long term ramifications are too scary to think about. I don’t want to see anybody put their future health in jeopardy just to play baseball.

The Tigers have certainly had more than their share of misfortunes this year. Valverde, Dotel, Coke, Sanchez, Verlander, Alburqueque, Jackson, Infante, Peralta, Avila and almost Cabrera. Did I miss anybody? We surely hope Alex will not suffer any long term problems. I hope the Tigers can overcome all this and continue to win games.

That could be why Alex is not hitting like he should. Get Well Soon. Thanks ElTigre for the run support numbers. Sale and Kershaw could have the same record as Max. That’s baseball and those pitchers are aces! Go Tigers! –Dave

The guy has been pummelled behind that plate. Concussion aside, there is still the not so small issue of his knees. We said this 2 years ago—can’t see how he can continue as a MLB catcher much longer.

AA has disappointed. The walks have been hurtful but I honestly do not think his slider is as unhittable as it was before his surgery. We could use Alvarez in our pen a lot more effectively than AA

A couple of other things: Anybody else here more than a little concerned re Miggy? Yes, he is hitting the snot out of the ball but do we want to see him playing at 70% the rest of the way? I could have sworn he hit his head on the bag at 3rd the other day when he tripped. Maybe they should put HIM on the 7-day concussion list!!!
The other thing, we lost two games that Miggy got us back in—essentially extra inning games. Why is it that JL has something etched in stone about using Benoit ONLY in SAVE situations? If you don’t keep the other team off the board you can’t score yourself to go ahead. Benoit went unused for 3 games in NY. How smart is that?

DB, your´ welcome
Re: Benoit. On Saturday the problem was wasting the bullpen early. Some managers use the closer in the 8th on the road because could be no 9th inning and that logic dictated going with Benoit yesterday in the 9th and Veras in the 10th but I dont remember JL going the way before. What I cant understand Is why, according to BYB, Jl did not want to use Veras yesterday. Supposedly, he dont want to overuse him since he did not work that much with Houston. If that is true , well, DD overpaid for a closer that needs too much rest .
There are only two solutions to Miguel problem sit him, and supposedly that wont make a difference , or play him at 1b and sit one day Victor and the other Fielder.
Avila:the the team has a player who played thru injury. Three outings later he was on DL and in way to surgery and almost the end of his career.

I hope big al gets well soon.

I hope that Avila and the Tigers check on the hockey style mask. I am a HS umpire and know several umpires who use them and the good masks of this type have an actual shock absorber built in to minimize, or at least lessen, the blow. I am sure the management, trainer or someone on staff knows this….but would hope some reader here with connections could mention it to the Tigers.

I wonder about Omar for tonight…I know he didn’t hit well in AAA, but he can’t be any worse than Perez? Missing Peralta…ten bucks if he’s in the lineup tigers don’t strand 26 runners on Friday and Sunday.

Well, if other people would pick up the slack! Prince, Andy, Omar, 2E. Jhonny’s loss would be less huge if the other guys stepped up. I’m sure they’re trying, but it’s not working. All those RISP left on base is PATHETIC!

Omar recalled

Perez back to AA.

Perez to AAA

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