In his first stint with the Tigers, Avila’s career got off to a promising start. In 2011, when he assumed the full-time catching duties, he hit .295/.389/.506 (142 OPS+) with 19 home runs and 82 RBI. He also made the All-Star team and won a Silver Slugger Award that season.
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In his later years with the Tigers, Avila dealt with injuries, including multiple concussions, and his production at the plate rapidly declined. Though he remained a solid defensive catcher, Avila hit only .224/.334/.360 (92 OPS+) between 2012-15. Avila’s keen eye and high walk rate helped give him a respectable on-base percentage, but he was never quite able to get back to being the offensive player that he was in 2011. He also piled up 433 strikeouts over 1,489 plate appearances during that four-year stretch.
Last season, Avila performed rather well as a part-time player with the White Sox, a role he also filled with the Tigers back in 2015 when it became apparent that James McCann would be the team’s catcher of the future. Through 209 plate appearances with the South Siders last season, Avila hit .213/.359/.373 (104 OPS+) and slugged seven homers.
This season, Avila’s reunion with the Tigers has gone about as well as anyone could have hoped. In the Tigers’ 13-4 blowout victory over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday afternoon, Avila belted his third home run of the season already. By comparison, he hit only four home runs total with the Tigers back in 2015. He is currently hitting a cool .364/.462/.864 (274 OPS+) on the season with five extra-base hits.
Can It Last?
Even during his rough seasons in Detroit, Avila still went through hot streaks, including a big second half in 2013 when he hit .303/.376/.500. Perhaps his current hot streak is comparable. It is possible that the fact he is well-rested and not playing every day could be contributing to his success as well.
More likely than not, Avila’s average is not going to be hovering around the .360 mark all season long. However, his track record shows that the occasional pop should remain. Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit 12 home runs in a backup role with the Tigers last season, but slashed only .171/.284/.346. Avila should easily be able to do about the same job, if not better from an average and on-base standpoint.
Avila hasn’t reached double-digits in the home run department since 2014, when he was still a full-time player. Given his hot start, hitting 10-plus home runs certainly shouldn’t be out of the question this season, depending on playing time.
Furthermore, McCann has already hit four home runs himself this season, although his average remains low. McCann should have an awfully bright future as the Tigers’ starting catcher. Avila has been a nice complement to McCann as the left-handed-hitting part of the Tigers’ catching tandem. He will likely continue to serve as such.