Game 16: Alex Avila, still slogging
It probably wasn’t a good sign of Alex Avila’s season to date that making contact over four plate appearances was considered a good sign, the ground-rule double he crushed to right-center field notwithstanding.
It probably wasn’t a good sign, either, that he did it from the eighth spot in order, even if it was against a left-hander. At this point, balancing out the lineup has taken a back seat to the urgency of getting productive hitters up in RBI situations.
The fact remains, though, that the Tigers desperately need a productive Avila in the lineup to balance it out.
“We’ve got to get Alex going,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
They need to, in part because they don’t have many other left-handed hitters to put in the lineup on an everyday basis, and in part because they don’t have another catcher who can take on the responsibility that he does.
That still doesn’t make it any easier to watch 21 strikeouts over 43 plate appearances, the ratio Avila had going into Monday’s game against the White Sox. But it puts a little bit of context into why the Tigers keep playing him.
Ausmus came to his defense strongly on Monday.
“There’s no question that the game-calling is maybe the single most important thing in the game of baseball,” Ausmus said. “If sabermetricians could put a statistic on someone who was good at calling pitches, we’d see catchers going into arbitration and making millions on the way they called pitches. You just can’t put a number on it.
“I have a lot [of responsibility] to Alex. I know he does a good job calling pitches and managing the game. Since that is the most important part of baseball, that would certainly give him more leeway with that. Now there is always that line where the balance tips one way or the other, but right now, for me, his game-calling supersedes what he’s done with the bat.”
Avila is doing his part to try to keep that balance in his favor. He’s seeing the ball well, but not hitting it often enough when does.
“It’s a matter of making contact and having the ball get in the hole somewhere,” Avila said. “For the most part, I’ve been having good at-bats. I’ve had some bad at-bats as well. But for the most part, I’ve been having good at-bats, seeing the ball pretty decently. Sometimes, they’re not going to go as planned every single time.
“You can’t get down about it. You can’t feel sorry about it. You just have to keep playing.”
The numbers suggest he’s doing that. Despite the struggles, he has drawn six walks in 47 plate appearances. His batting average on balls put in play (BABIP) stood at .400. He’s swinging at less than 20 percent of pitches outside the strike zone for the first time in his career, according to Fangraphs.com. Yet he’s still not connecting with his swings at a good rate, and the contact rate down all around.
His contact rate was solid on Friday, but he hit his first two pitches right into the heart of the shift on the right side.