Tigers want Alex Avila to swing more often


From the Detroit News:

But it's been quite interesting this spring and offseason, as Jim Leyland repeatedly has said he thinks (Alex) Avila can be a bit too selective at the plate.

So, your response, Alex?

"I just don't swing at balls out of the zone. Last year, I hit .240-something and I had a ton of walks, and it wasn't because guys were scared of me," Avila said. "I'm not gonna swing at balls."

Now, I'm guessing Leyland is suggesting Avila be more aggressive on pitches within the strike zone, not swing at pitches outside the zone. Leyland's concerns, I suspect, come from Avila's batting lines the past two seasons:

2011: .295/.389/.506, 19 home runs, 73 walks (551 PAs)

2012: .243/.352/.384, 9 home runs, 61 walks (434 PAs)

OK, never mind that because of his excellent walk rate Avila had a higher on-base percentage last year than Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Zimmerman, Carlos Beltran, Adrian Gonzalez or Albert Pujols, to name just a few hitters; Avila did have a worse year than in 2011. So maybe Leyland's on to something? That Avila was somehow more passive and thus less productive?

Avila did swing less often in 2012 -- he swung at 43 percent of all pitches seen in 2011, 39 percent of all pitches in 2012. On pitches in the strike zone, the difference was 1.2 percent: 60.2 percent in 2011, 58.7 percent in 2012. I don't think Leyland can eyeball a 1 to 2 percent less aggression rate. He swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone in 2012 (24 percent versus 21 percent) and his contact percentage on pitches in the zone was 4 percent less in 2012. Overall, Avila's approach over the two seasons was basically the same.

The big difference between the two years: He had a .366 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in 2011, .313 in 2012. That figure in 2011 ranked sixth among all hitters with 500 plate appearances and is essentially unsustainable for a batter with Avila's speed. By this analysis, we would conclude that Avila was essentially lucky in 2011.

Now, that doesn't necessarily mean Leyland is wrong. Avila's batting average dropped, but so did his extra-base power. Maybe Avila is still too passive or was more aggressive in certain counts in 2011. Avila does have a fairly low rate at swinging at pitches in the strike zone: Among players with 400 PAs, he was 174th out of 193 in swing percentage. Among those with a lower rate were Mike Trout and Joe Mauer, however, and nobody is telling them to be more aggressive.

Anyway, Avila swung at the first pitch 12.7 percent of the time in 2011, 12.2 percent in 2012, so no difference there. What about 1-0 and 2-0 counts, when the hitter has the advantage?

1 and 0

2011: 14.6 percent swing rate

2012: 14.4 percent swing rate

2 and 0

2011: 23.8 percent swing rate

2012: 14.4 percent swing rate

So he was more aggressive on 2-0 counts in 2011. But you know what we're talking about? About 10 swings. And Avila didn't hit well on 2-0 counts in 2011 anyway: .250 with no home runs in 24 PAs.

The conclusion here: I see no evidence to support Leyland's theory that Avila should swing more often. Avila's approach was the same in 2011 and 2012. It worked well for him in 2011, when there was a good chance he was simply over his head. A more aggressive Avila would likely become a worse Avila; his strongest attribute as a hitter is his patience at the plate. Keep doing what you're doing, Alex.