When Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila signed his son to a one-year, 2 million dollar deal this past winter, many blamed him of nepotism. After all, Alex Avila (who bares the same name as his father) was coming off a season in which he struck out 37.3% of the time, and hit just .213 despite a .341 BABIP. The 2016 season was no aberration either as you had to go back all the way to 2012 to find a season in which Avila posted an offensive season above league average. But just weeks into the 2017 season, it was clear that pops new something about his son that nobody else did as Avila was employing a new flyball-heavy approach to clobber American League pitching.
Trying to keep his career alive, Avila did what many other veteran sluggers have done.– hit the ball in the air. After being inducted into the increasingly popular flyball fraternity, Avila had reestablished himself as a solid offensive backstop. The previous two seasons, Avila had hit fly balls in just 27.6% of his at-bats and had a 45.8% groundball rate. I probably don’t have to tell you that catcher legs and a high GB% is not a good thing.
One thing that Avila has always done, rain or shine, slump or streak, is avoid making soft contact (which is different than saying he hits the ball hard). In fact, since the beginning of the 2013 season, nobody has a lower soft contact% (Soft%) lower than Mr. Avila. In fact, the only person that has a single digit Soft% is Miguel Cabrera, whose Soft% is a full point higher than Avila’s.
While Avila has always hit the ball hard, this year he has also hit the ball in the air. As most people who watch baseball now know, there is no couple more special than Mr. Launch Angle and Ms. Exit Velocity. Its truly a holy matrimony. In 2017, Avila has lifted the ball 36.7% of the time and done so with authority, as he trails only Gary Sanchez in flyball exit velocity amongst catchers. To be fair, there have been reports that Detroit’s trackman software was producing exaggerated exit velocities this season, but the results speak for themselves as Avila trails only Buster Posey in catcher’s wRC+.
Despite his career year, Alex’s father dispelled all claims of favoritism at the trade deadline when he traded his son to the Cubs along with lefthander Justin Wilson for a pair of prospects. It was a father / son sports story while it lasted.