MLB: Spring Training-Chicago Cubs at Chicago White Sox

Alex Avila Is Making Me Nervous

The season hasn’t started yet, and we have already spilled a decent amount of ink on the White Sox‘ catching situation. Well, injury-prone backstop Alex Avila is already injured, and the subsequent reassuring quotes actually have me way more freaked out than if they had said nothing.

On Saturday, March 26, Avila was pulled from a game due to back stiffness.  To mollify our concerns, Avila said, in sum and substance, “Not to worry! My back usually hurts way worse than this in the Spring!” Consider me assuaged–this is only a modest flareup of his chronic back problems! What’s that? You’re concerned to learn about this because you thought his problems were “only” limited to repeated concussions and knee damage? Ha! Then I have the medicine for you, because Robin Ventura chimed in to say, “He was walking around all right.” Surely now you feel better, don’t you?

I suppose Avila being able to walk (not draw four balls before making an out, but basic bipedal movement) is better than the alternative but is it possible Avila is even more fragile than previously realized? After all, this is a guy who was signed away from a team where his father is the GM so that James McCann — who projects for a -1.4 WARP next year — could evidently become the full time starter, and he was signed away for a relative pittance.

Even without health concerns there would be plenty of reasons to be scared of Avila if you’re a White Sox fan. It’s true that his control of the strike zone is admirable, as he maintained a very usable OBP (.339 in 2015) even as his contact and power skills burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp. Unfortunately, walks are basically the only thing he has left. Last year Avila was already beginning to test the limits of, “Will pitchers continue to walk you once it is proved beyond any doubt that you cannot hit the ball?” Then he came into camp this spring, and so far he is 1/16 with 7 walks.

Yes, 23 PAs is a tiny sample. To prove just how meaningless it is in the grand scheme of things, I went to 2002 Barry Bonds and was immediately able to find a 24 PA sample wherein he hit .125/.417/.188 because every player will have stretches like that. I went to the best season I could think of off the top of my head and I didn’t even need to get outside of April to pick out a “slump” like this.

We can even throw on the caveat that this is Spring Training and not even the regular season.  I will say, however, that going 1-for-16 is consistent with Avila’s trends of the past several years, and it is also consistent with him completely losing any ability to put his bat on the ball.  While the bar for offense at catcher is very low, there is reason to believe that Avila is flirting very dangerously with being Completely Done.

PECOTA still projects Avila to scrape together 411 PAs with a very respectable .228/.334/.371 line this year, and PECOTA is smarter than me. But, it could be that PECOTA is underestimating just how annihilated by injury this formerly very skilled 29-year old has been.

Lead Photo Credit: Kris Negron // USA Today Sports Images

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