CLEVELAND -- The Tigers aren't far off from the pace from this point last season, but some individual players are. One of them is Alex Avila, who seems to be getting a different approach from opposing pitchers compared with his breakout 2011 campaign.
An American League scout who follows the Tigers noted that Avila is getting far fewer fastballs to hit than last season, and the stats bear that out. According to fangraphs.com, Avila saw fastballs with 57.2 percent of the pitches thrown to him in 2011, just slightly under his previous averages in Detroit. By contrast, just 51.8 percent of pitches to him have been fastballs so far. A look at pitch f/x and four-seam fastballs on fangraphs.com shows that the difference is even greater, from 37.4 percent in 2011 to 28 percent this season.
Instead, Avlia is seeing more curveballs and changeups, with a few more cutters mixed in. On Wednesday, Indians reliever Vinny Pestano used a slider to start Avila's pitch-hitting appearance, then went back to sliders to set up a fastball on the outside corner for a called third strike.
Avila hit .327 off fastballs last year, according to data from STATS. He's hitting .328 off them so far this season. However, he's hitting under .200 against everything else, with no hits yet off changeups. He batted .383 off changeups last year, according to STATS.
Avila entered Thursday's series finale with a .222 average, 61 points below his average at this point through last season, with 34 strikeouts through 138 plate appearances. Manager Jim Leyland believes that Avila will come around, but he doesn't want to see his All-Star catcher fall into a tentative approach.
"I just think he needs to stay aggressive," Leyland said. "He'll do fine."