Is It Time For The Arizona Diamondbacks To Give Up On Alex Avila?
By Randy Holt
Despite plenty of offensive success this year, one position hasn’t proven to be very stable at the plate. An offseason signing, an under-the-radar talent, and a defense-first catcher have led to something of a black hole behind the plate. Which leaves us to wonder, is any offense coming from the catching position?
John Ryan Murphy did have a nice offensive stretch. But his on-base percentage is under .290 for the year. Jeff Mathis has never been known for his offense. The most disappointing quantity of all, though? That’d be Alex Avila. One of the more key signings of the offseason, the hope was that Avila would bring a touch with the bat, in addition to some solid defense. He’s provided one of those things, but, as fans well know, not the other.
To say that Alex Avila has been struggling offensively would be a gross understatement. In fact, his WAR for the year, according to FanGraphs, is in the negative at -0.4. That’s due almost exclusively to his offense. Fans have been clamoring for the Snakes to move on from the veteran, with at least one area radio host (who will remain nameless) screaming every time he steps in the box.
Admittedly, it’s weird timing to write this the day after Alex Avila had his best offensive day since April. Literally. His 2-for-4 night against Pittsburgh on Thursday was his first multi-hit game since April 24th. That included a two-run homer, just his third of the year.
Avila’s offensive numbers on the year are nothing short of brutal. His slash includes a .124 average and .240 OBP. His ISO? .078. His 44.6% strikeout rate is, by far, his highest of his career. His wRC+, FanGraphs’ catch-all offensive statistic, is 28. That’s 72 points below what would be considered even “average.”
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Now, there have been some successes for Avila. His walk rate is at 13.2%. He’s hitting the ball hard at a rate over 37%. There’s been an extreme quality of bad luck for Avila, with a .208 BABIP. At the same time, he’s only making contact about 62% of the time. So while he is running into some bad luck when he makes good contact, he isn’t making a ton of contact overall. Always the patient hitter (34% swing rate), working deep counts isn’t doing the strikeout rate any favors, either. Avila hasn’t been good, but he likely hasn’t been as overwhelmingly terrible as the numbers would indicate.
The more important thing for this staff, though, is Avila’s defense. And according to Baseball Prospectus’ catching metrics, Avila has been very good:
- Called Strikes Above Average (CSAA): 0.010 (19th)
- Errant Pitches Above Average (EPAA): -0.001 (52nd)
- Swipe Rate Above Average (SRAA): 0.002 (43rd)
- Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA): 2.8 (19th)
That list features 96 catchers, many of which have very little big league time. So even those rankings could see Avila climb a bit higher if we adjusted the list. It’s worth nothing John Ryan Murphy and Jeff Mathis are both relatively high in each category. Avila has been really steady defensively, giving him value regardless of the low offensive output.
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Because of that, it’s really difficult to throw in the towel on Alex Avila. Mathis is even more of a black hole offensively, and Murphy (despite being 27) doesn’t have a ton of big league experience to date. There’s more offensive talent than has been there. His previous seasons indicate that. He’s been above average defensively. There are some positive qualities there. Perhaps he’ll shake off some of the bad luck as the season wears on. The numbers are ugly, but Avila has been a far more valuable player than they would indicate. Hopefully the summer will begin to show that.