11/02/11 9:18 PM ET
Avila claims first Silver Slugger Award
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
With a big first season as a full-time starting catcher, Avila took the mantle as the American League's best offensive catcher from the oft-injured Joe Mauer. The All-Star beat out Napoli, Matt Wieters and others to become the only Tigers winner this season.
Avila is the first Tiger to win the Silver Slugger at catcher since 2004, Ivan Rodriguez's first season in Detroit. He's the first catcher other than Mauer to win the honor since 2007, when Jorge Posada won it.
"To be considered the best offensive catcher is great," Avila told MLB.com on Wednesday night in a text message, "and it's an achievement I'm very proud of."
It wasn't necessarily an easy decision for AL managers and coaches. Though Avila earned the All-Star start at catcher on his first-half roll, and never had the falloff that some might have expected, he also had to deal with catchers who heated up down the stretch. None got hotter than Napoli, who hit .383 with 18 home runs and 42 RBIs after the All-Star break, including .429 with eight homers in September. Though Napoli made just 57 starts behind the plate, he played there more than he did at any other position.
Wieters, who beat out Avila for the Gold Glove, also made his case based on power. He homered 12 times in August and September and posted an .840 OPS over the season's second half.
In the end, though, nobody showed the consistency that Avila displayed, surprisingly so for a 24-year-old dealing with the wear and tear of more starts than any other AL catcher. He actually built on his first-half numbers by hitting for a higher average, near-identical slugging percentage and a higher OPS after the break.
Take Napoli out of the equation and Avila led all full-time catchers in the American League in batting average, on-base and slugging percentages, and topped all Major League catchers in the latter two. He also led all AL catchers in base hits, RBIs and triples.
Fittingly enough, Avila and Napoli are friends.
"We're from the same area in South Florida," Avila said, "and he had a great season, but it doesn't make it any better. Being a Silver Slugger is pretty good on its own."
All through the second half, Avila was hitting through pain. A tweaked knee in July became patella tendinitis, which in August became an obstacle to fight through while playing every day with Victor Martinez unable to catch because of his own injured knee.
Tiger catchers have won 10 of the 32 Silver Sluggers since the award began in 1980. Half of those went to Lance Parrish, who added a sixth as an Angel in 1990. Rodriguez, Mickey Tettleton and Matt Nokes also won at least one Silver Slugger in a Detroit uniform.
Detroit had three other realistic candidates for Silver Sluggers, but all lost out in what looked like crowded fields and tough decisions for managers and coaches. None were bigger than at first base.While reigning Silver Slugger first baseman Miguel Cabrera won a batting title with a late-season tear, it apparently came too late to sway voters to choose him over Boston's Adrian Gonzalez.
Cabrera finished with better statistics in most of the major categories, including batting average, slugging and on-base percentages, home runs, RBIs and runs scored, but he did not get the nod. He's the first AL batting champion to be left out of the Silver Sluggers since Michael Young in 2005, but the 12th in the 32-year history of the awards.
Jhonny Peralta led all AL shortstops in batting average and OPS, but his former teammate in Cleveland, Asdrubal Cabrera, had the advantage in hits, RBIs and runs scored. That earned Cabrera the vote, making him the first Indians player to win a Silver Slugger since Grady Sizemore in 2008 and the first Cleveland infielder since Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar in 2000.
Though designated hitter isn't a defensive position, it's a Silver Slugger award, and it pitted Martinez against former Red Sox teammate David Ortiz this year. Martinez had the higher batting average, finishing fourth in the league at .330, but Ortiz delivered more run production to win his fifth Silver Slugger at DH. Those two will likely have a similar competition going when AL media members vote for the outstanding DH award.