Mike Aviles, apparently, is a hard guy to love.
Back in 2008, the Royals endured 46 starts of Tony Pena Jr. playing historically bad baseball (.169/.189/.209) and even tried Alberto Callaspo and Esteban German at shortstop before, reluctantly, giving Mike Aviles a chance to play. Four hundred and forty-one plate appearances later, Aviles had fashioned a .325/.354/.480 line for an OPS+ of 121 and a WAR of 4.0 as a 27 year old rookie. Along the way, Mike had even played good defense, posting a 24.0 UZR/150.
Even after the 2008 campaign, however, there were grumblings that Aviles would certainly regress due to his .357 BABIP and the relatively small sample size of defensive numbers we had to deal with.
Along cam 2009 and Aviles was awful as he tried to play through an injury that would eventually lead to Tommy John surgery. His defense was poor and the bat non-existent (.183/.208/.250).
The Royals were outright mad at Aviles, too, as they felt he had hidden or at least not been completely forthright about his injury. Apparently, it is okay for a gritty veteran (Jason Kendall) to try to play through an injury and be lauded for his toughness, but another thing entirely for a second year player who had pretty much had to beat down the door to the majors to do the same.
At any rate, Aviles became persona non grata in Royaland. We found ourselves with Yunieksy Betancourt on the Royals’ roster and saw Alberto Callaspo blossom at the plate in 2009. Even then, Dayton Moore went out and traded for another middle infielder in Chris Getz during the off-season. I, like many others, quietly filed Mike Aviles 2008 season away as just ‘one of those moments in time’, soon to be forgotten.
This past spring, however, Aviles was back in camp and hitting a ton. So much so, that the Royals even took him north for opening day. He did not play much or hang around long in April before Mike found himself back in Omaha for 17 games.
However, Aviles soon found himself back in the majors as the Royals had suddenly (perhaps understandably) lost faith in Alex Gordon at third base. My guess is that had Trey Hillman stayed on as manager, we probably would have seen a lot more of Aviles at shortstop, but not long after Mike arrived back in the majors, Ned Yost came onboard as the new skipper.
Under Yost, the everyday shortstop was Yuniesky Betancourt come hell or high water. Whether that made sense or not is a subject for another day, but the end result pushed Aviles over to second base: a position that he had played far less (79 minor league games) than Mike had at short (377) or third (164).
Aviles got off to a hot start and settled in as a regular, albeit not quite everyday, piece of the Royals lineup. Still, this wasn’t the Mike we had known in 2008. While he continued to hit for decent average, there was almost no power in his bat. After going 0-4 on July 20th, Aviles’ OPS slipped below the .700 mark and although he continued to play, Aviles was once more an afterthought among most Royals’ fans.
Worse even than the slipping offensive output, Aviles was simply not a very good second baseman. He was Alberto Callaspo Part II – and Alberto was an awful defensive second baseman.
For most of the summer I, along with many others, wondered if maybe Aviles was not totally healthy. Mark Teahen, playing with a bad shoulder, was an awful third baseman. Having no faith in your arm leads to rushing everything else in the field and suddenly your footwork is off and your hands turn to stone. Maybe it was mostly hope (given I own an Aviles jersey) that made me believe that so many of Aviles’ troubles were simply a matter of not being fully recovered and playing a basically new position. Maybe, just maybe, the 2008 Aviles was still in there somewhere.
In August, Aviles hit .305, but did so without hitting a single extra base hit the ENTIRE MONTH. Even in my mind, Mike had gone from a part of the future to a placeholder until someone, anyone, better came along.
Then, September came along, and something changed. The timid 2010 Aviles who, it turned out, really was protecting his shoulder decided to cut it loose. Starting on September 13th, he homered in four of five games and went has gone on to post a line of .358/.376/.630 for the month. Sure, it is September, but last time I checked Fausto Carmona, who Aviles took deep yesterday, pitches in every month of the year.
For the season, Aviles now stands at .307/.335/.414 with an OPS+ of 104 and a WAR of 1.2. Not bad numbers for a guy who went half the summer as a dink singles hitter.
Now, you would be right to once more point out that we should not carried away over a player’s hot September. Ryan Shealy hit seven September home runs not too long ago and where is he now? No, really, where is he now?
Still, in Aviles, we have a season just two years ago where he was the highest WAR position player in royal blue since Carlos Beltran, so this September has not come out of nowhere.
We now have seen just under 1,000 career plate appearances from Aviles and even with the putrid, injury plagued numbers of 2009 included, he has a career line of .299/.327/.422 and an OPS+ of 101. Somewhere around this mark, we have to stop writing off the lucky .355 BABIP in 2008 and the quasi-lucky .328 BABIP of this season. (David DeJesus has a career BABIP of .322, by the way, so not everyone regresses to the magic number of .300).
Does any of the above make Mike Aviles an All-Star? No. Does it mean second base is not a concern for the next four years? No. What it does mean, however, is that Mike Aviles should be the second baseman in 2011 and get a decent amount of time at shortstop as well. Not to beat a dead horse, but Yuniesky Betancourt currently holds a .286 on-base percentage.
Aviles deserves a little love….at least for another year.