Saturday, August 06, 2011

Avila Excelling at a Young Age

Earlier in the year, I demonstrated that Alex Avila was having one of the best seasons for a catcher in the history of the Detroit franchise. He is still near the top of that list, but I also wanted to see how he ranked among all major league catchers at a young age.  Catchers tend to take longer to develop than players at other positions, so it seems impressive that Avila is having such an outstanding season at age 24. The question is how impressive?

Avila is currently batting .285 with with 13 homers and a league-leading (for catchers) .867 OPS.   The criteria I'm using to rank Avila historically is OPS+.  Remember that OPS+ is a batter's OPS adjusted for ballpark and league average.  The league average hitter has an OPS+ of 100.  Anything better than 100 is above average.  Anything less than 100 is below average.   Only about 10% of batters have an OPS+ of 135 or higher.  So, Avila's OPS+ of 140 is really good especially for a catcher.

The table below shows that the left-handed hitting Avila is tied for eighth among all catchers under the age of 25.  Hall of Famer Johnny Bench heads the list with a remarkable 166 OPS+ in 1970 at age 24.  Two year's earlier, the Cincinnati Reds standout had an OPS+ of 141 at age 22.  Tigers slugger Rudy York also appears on the list twice posting OPS+'s of 151 and 140 in 1937 and 1938 at ages 23 and 24.

Others on the list include Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Joe Mauer, Brian McCann and Joe Torre.  So, there are no flukes in this group.  Every player on the list has gone on to have several outstanding seasons.   We never want to get too far ahead ourselves especially when dealing with the catching position which tends to wear players down pretty fast. Avila is in good company though and seems to be destined for more great seasons in the future.

Table: OPS+ Leaders for Catchers Aged 24 and Under

Player
Year
Team
Age
PA
OPS+
Johnny Bench
1972
Cin
24
652
166
Carlton Fisk
1972
Bos
24
514
162
Mike Piazza
1993
LA
24
602
151
Rudy York
1937
Det
23
417
151
Joe Mauer
2006
Min
23
608
144
Brian McCann
2006
Atl
22
492
143
Johnny Bench
1970
Cin
22
671
141
Alex Avila
2011
Det
24
357
140
Joe Torre
1965
Mil
24
594
140
Joe Torre
1964
Mil
23
646
140
Rudy York
1938
Det
24
557
140

Note: The data for this post were extracted from Baseball-Reference.

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