The Tigers' secret weapon

A lack of good-hitting catchers makes Alex Avila Detroit's most valuable player

Updated: July 21, 2011, 12:42 PM ET
By Ben Lindbergh | Baseball Prospectus
Alex AvilaAP Photo/Carlos OsorioAlex Avila has developed into one of the major leagues' most offensively productive catchers.

Miguel Cabrera gets most of the accolades in the Detroit Tigers' historically top-heavy lineup, and not without reason -- the first baseman's .349 True Average (TAv) trails only Jose Bautista's among American League batters. However, Cabrera hasn't been the most valuable position player in Detroit this season. That title belongs to Alex Avila, a 24-year-old catcher who came up through the Tigers' system before making his major league debut late in 2009.

Avila acquitted himself well in his initial exposure to the majors but his bat crashed back to earth last season, when he hit .228/.316/.340 while splitting catching duties with Gerald Laird. This season, however, he's hit well enough to take over the team lead in Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), posting a 3.4 figure to Cabrera's 3.1.

There's still plenty of time for Avila to be overtaken by another Tiger, but if he maintains his productive pace, he'll achieve a distinction that few catchers can claim. Since 1950, 44 catchers have combined to lead their teams' position players in WARP just 85 times. Brian McCann is the only other backstop in line for the honor this year; McCann, Joe Mauer and Geovany Soto pulled off the feat in 2010.

Ben Lindbergh

Baseball Prospectus
Ben Lindbergh is the editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus. He has interned for multiple MLB teams and is a member of the BBWAA.