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Analyzing Mike Aviles' plate discipline and what it means

What Aviles' plate discipline tells us about his offense in the past and going forward

Analyzing Mike Aviles' plate discipline and what it means
January 14, 2014
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If you want to find one of the key reasons for Cleveland's big turnaround from 2012 to 2013, just look at the upgrades on the bench -- like the addition of Mike Aviles. It is very easy to just look at a starting nine or the five-man rotation, but over a long 162-game season, depth really comes into play.

During the 2012 season, Cleveland's key bench members consisted of players like Shelley DuncanLou Marson, and Jose Lopez. Last season was a different story, however, as key contributions from the likes of Ryan RaburnYan Gomes, and Aviles helped put Cleveland over the top.

The funny thing about Aviles, though, is that even though he was an upgrade over the 2012 bench, his 2013 season was not all that impressive. Depending on which version of WAR you care for, Aviles was either worth 0.3 fWAR or 0.6 rWAR in 2013. Either way, despite playing in 124 games and logging 394 plate appearances, Aviles was well below-average last season.

How did that happen following Aviles' rather stellar 2012 campaign? The infielder dropped from 1.5 to 0.3 fWAR despite his offense staying rather stagnant (.250/.282/.381 line in 2012, .252/.282/.368 line in 2013). Well, Aviles saw a regression in his defense. The metrics have never really loved Aviles at third base, yet that is where he spent almost half of his time in 2013.

Basically, Aviles plays a good shortstop (7.2 career UZR/150), but not a good third base (-18.2 career UZR/150; though that sample is fairly limited, the fact that the stats are that bad are a pretty good indication of Aviles' defensive ability at the hot corner and they would only regress so far).

His defensive positioning-induced fluctuating WAR totals aside, the real interesting thing about Aviles in 2013 are the underlying statistics behind his poor offensive line. A mere look at his slash lines above indicate that he was the same hitter in 2012 and 2013, but Aviles actually made some significant changes in his approach.

Aviles has never walked or struck out much in his career, but the degree to which he limited his strikeouts in 2013 is rare for the infielder.

Season

PA

BB%+

K%+

wRC+

BABIP+

2008

441

47

75

117

119

2009

127

35

114

12

75

2010

448

53

59

103

110

2011

309

52

76

85

94

2012

546

53

71

75

91

2013

394

48

52

80

87

Note that all "+" statistics put the stat in the context of the season in which they occurred with 100 being average

The only other season where Aviles put together a similar strikeout rate was his 2010 season, which also happens to double as his second-best offensive season. Hitters with power can get away with more strikeouts, but when a hitter like Aviles limits his strikeouts like this, we would normally expect better offense.

Aviles' offense did not improve in 2013 even though he decreased his strikeout rate just like in 2010. The reason the offense did not improve? Aviles' BABIP did not rise in conjunction with the decrease in his strikeout rate. Aviles' offensive bump in 2010 happened because his BABIP was above-average, while the infielder's BABIP in 2013 was actually the second-worst of his career.

BABIP is often called "luck," but that boils down the stat way too much. Some of BABIP is random fluctuations that regress toward the mean, but BABIP is also affected by the hitter. If a hitter swings at bad pitches and makes contact with them, he is much less likely to make solid contact. Since hard-hit balls fall for hits more than weakly-hit balls, chasing a lot of pitches out of the zone and making contact with them is typically a one-way ticket toward a bad BABIP.

Which is exactly what Aviles has done throughout his career:

Year

O-Swing%+

Z-Swing%+

Swing%+

O-Contact%+

Z-Contact%+

Contact%+

2008

130

106

114

111

103

104

2009

113

102

104

112

97

100

2010

110

107

110

115

105

108

2011

114

108

112

111

104

106

2012

111

102

105

112

104

106

2013

113

102

107

117

107

110

 

Aviles has always swung quite frequently at pitches throughout his career; in both 2010 and 2013, he made contact with a few more outside of the zone (O-Contact%+), which is probably something that led to the decreased strikeout rates.

Given that Aviles' plate discipline never really changed all that substantially over the years and his BABIP has almost always been below-average, I would wager that the "lucky" BABIP years were 2008 and 2010 -- the ones where he was above-average -- and the past three years are probably a good indication of his BABIP baseline.

Which is all a big, roundabout way of saying I expect 2014 to be much like 2013 for Aviles. It is easy to look at his .257 BABIP in 2013 and say "that figure is too low and will rebound along with his offense." But that just does not seem to be the case.

We expect middle infielders to be speedy guys who control the bat well and sustain higher BABIPs than normal; Aviles is proof that not all stereotypes are right and that a middle infielder can actually be kind of bad at BABIP.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at jpiasci1@gmail.com

User Comments

Mike
January 15, 2014 - 12:32 AM EST
I've always said that if Aviles is playing everyday for your team you are not a very good ball club.

Even more of a reason to hang on to Cabrera until Lindor is ready.
Roger
January 14, 2014 - 7:12 PM EST
aviles is signed only thru 2014 with club option for 2015 so we will have another season to see where he stays beyong 2014. he does play several positions adequately. every team needs a mike aveles. he is the poor teams zolquist a guy who you can stat at several positions snd not have to hold breathe on ball hit his way. if the worst thing we can is find blemishes on aviles we will be in pretty good shape fir 2014.
Seth
January 14, 2014 - 4:45 PM EST
I think we need a different term from "plate discipline" when talking about swinging or not swinging at pitches when dealing with Aviles. "Analyzing Mike Aviles' Plate Discipline" is like "Analyzing Chris Perez' Even Temper" or "Analyzing Prince Fielder's Athleticism". "Plate discipline" just sounds too positive for any analysis that involves Aviles determining whether or not a pitch is a good one to swing at. "Why yes, I can definitely do some damage to that head-high, outside fastball." When you make Lonnie Chisenhall look, well, disciplined, you have some problems.
Andy
January 14, 2014 - 3:50 PM EST
Aviles has a lot of GDP's to go along with the low K%, further suggesting that his BABIP baseline is below ML average.

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