It has been no secret that Alex Avila has not been anything but disappointing for the Detroit Tigers this season. In 304 plate appearances, Avila is currently hitting .207 with 9 home runs and 39 RBI. He also has a disappointing .297 OBP in his 79 games played. Avila has been battling injuries this season with the most recent being a possible concussion that landed him on the 7 day concussion disabled list as well as a short rehabilitation stint in the minors.
Defense has also been a sore spot for Avila this entire season as base runners have been running at will on him. Avila has thrown out only 11 base runners who were attempting to steal which is good for 16% of base runners caught stealing, well below the league average of 26%. 58 base runners have been able to successfully steal a bag with Avila behind home plate.
Jim Leyland has made it clear in the past that Avila is his starter despite the poor offensive and defensive numbers. The problem with that is that his backup, Brayan Pena, is having a nice offensive season and defensive season in only about 100 less plate appearances.
In Pena’s 208 plate appearances this season, he is hitting .313, with 4 home runs and 22 RBI. His OBP for those 208 PA is sitting 35 points higher than Avila at .332. Pena’s defense has also been much better than Avila’s when he gets the playing time. Pena has thrown out 12 of the base runners who were attempting to steal which is good for 24% of base runners caught stealing and only 2% below the league average. There have been 38 successful steals with Pena behind home plate.
The only difficulty in comparing stats between Alex Avila and Brayan Pena is that Pena has seen almost 100 fewer plate appearances and appeared in about 20 less games than Avila has this season. It is hard to determine if Pena would be able to keep up his offensive pace over a full season’s worth of plate appearances.It is hard to go off of history in this case because Pena has never been anything more than a backup his entire major league career.
The Tigers refuse to give up on Avila as their starter as they hope that he can still return to his All-Star form of 2011 but there just seems to be no way that can happen, at least this season. Personally, I would give Pena a shot at the starting position as he has seemed to come up with big hits when they were needed most and his defensive abilities have been much improved over Avila. Who do you believe should be the starter for the Tigers down the stretch and into the playoffs? Should Alex Avila continue to keep the position despite his offensive and defensive struggles, or should the Tigers give Pena the chance to show what he can do on a full time basis?