I was not an Alex Avila fan last year. Okay, okay. That’s not exactly accurate. I was a hater. I could be heard yelling “nepotism” and “trade him” (creative, I know … and strong, too) every time he struck out. Which was 71 times in 104 games last year. And sometimes, at parties, after a few beers, I was even known to bring up Pudge Rodriguez – waxing nostalgic for the days of a solid-hitting catcher. I’m not proud. I’m embarrassed.
And I take it all back now.
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That’s not an easy thing for me to do – ask around. But Avila has left me no choice. He’s batting .297, which is impressive for all of the usual reasons plus these two: He’s currently the best hitting catcher in the American League, and he’s naturally right-handed, but bats left. Yep. It’s only been five years since he switched sides and just look at where he is now. Five years. You try it. Start writing left-handed now and see how far you get in five years. I bet you don’t make it to the majors. Of handwriting. Okay. Bad example. But you know what I mean.
A couple nights ago, Avila did something only two other Tigers catchers have done in the last 90 years – he hit two triples in one game. There’s a school of thought that believes every stand-up triple is really a down and dirty inside-the-park home run in disguise. And Avila thought about it. Thought about ignoring the stop sign. And then he thought about the game. No outs. Tie score. He thought about the team. Listened to his coaches. And stopped at third.
You can’t ask for more than that from a guy in his second full major league season. And that’s okay – you don’t have to ask. At the plate, Avila’s got all American League catchers beat this year in nearly every stat – batting average, home runs, extra-base hits, RBIs, you name it.
And then you watch him behind the plate. He’s right up there with the best catchers in the league right now. Statistically and otherwise. Some things can’t be measured (try as we might). It’s no mistake he caught Justin Verlander’s no-hitter this year. And Armando Galarraga‘s perfect game last season. [Editor’s note: Spoken like a true Tigers fan!] The kid’s got game.
He’s quietly become an amazing talent in a very short period of time. Which is great for the Tigers. Great for Avila. And great for the back and knees.
And here’s one more thing: Avila only started catching about four years ago.
I’m going to let that line sit all by itself.
If you don’t vote for Avila as an All-Star this year, I don’t know what you’re thinking. Who else is there? Joe Mauer? Really? He’s played like, what, nine games this year? Hell, last year, even I joined the more than five million people that voted for him. But not this year.
Mauer is currently second in the voting (those must have been nine very impressive games this season). So who’s first? Russell Martin. Huh. Isn’t he batting like .238? Not to mention the fact that Avila ties or bests him in every defensive category.
I know you can vote 25 times per email account, but come on. Who are these crazy people doing the voting? Oh. Right. Yankees fans. See, that’s the thing. The All-Star Game is really a popularity contest. We all know this. And we like it that way. Except when the greatest talent is overshadowed by a great player having a less than great season.
If the voting ended today, the Yankees would have six starters in the All-Star Game (including the mysterious case of Derek Jeter over Jhonny Peralta, but that’s a story for another time). The Tigers? Zero. Look, maybe we can’t buy a series like the Yankees – maybe we have to earn it the old-fashioned way. But All-Star voting is free. Our players are earning their chances to be on the team. Now, it’s up to us to make sure they get there.
I’m telling you. As far as catchers go, Avila is the guy. And that’s not easy for me to admit.
Now, go get yourself eight or nine more gmail accounts and start voting.