When the Indians traded Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes the blogosphere was buzzing that the trade signified a precursor for a trade of Asdrubal Cabrera. Most of the post-trade dialogue focused on the flexibility for the front office to trade him and at the very least acquiring the player that will provide a much needed rest for Cabrera to help withstand the grind of the 162-game season.
Both were very good points of discussion, but they overlooked something important: the value that Mike Aviles will have in helping Jason Kipnis and the Indians at second base.
Soon after the trade was announced the discussion of whether to trade Asdrubal Cabrera and turn the position over to Mike Aviles began. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince covered it in his article, The Case For Trading Asdrubal Cabrera and our own Lewie Pollis addressed the topic in his Does Mike Aviles Deal Mean Indians Will Trade Asdrubal Cabrera? In his article, Lewie asked our readers whether they think the Indians will trade Cabrera this winter; two-thirds of the respondents said yes.
Another point of discussion was that the Indians now had a shortstop that could come in and give Cabrera a day off or give his legs a rest and allow him time at the revolving designated hitter position—a major concern for some fans after the disappointing second halves he’s had the last two seasons.
But Aviles could also alleviate concerns about the durability of second baseman Jason Kipnis, as well as his ability to hit left handed pitching. Overall Kipnis had a fine first full season in 2012, hitting .257/.335/.379 with a 101 wRC+, and 3.1 fWAR. He also added 31 stolen bases while getting caught only 7 times. He did not display outstanding range (UZR/150 of -4.4), but he committed only 6 errors in 687 chances (.991 fielding percentage).
Even with all the positive numbers he will be entering his sophomore season which is infamous for challenging even the best of talents. There is evidence to suggest that he too also experienced fatigue at the end of the season, causing him to fade at the finish. He also struggled against left-handed pitching throughout the season.
The fatigue may have come from starting 145 games at second base (appearing in 152 games) and compiling a career high 672 plate appearances. Relative to his first-half numbers he struggled in the second half against both right-handed and left-handed pitching and hit only 3 home runs after swatting 11 bombs in the first half.
Pitchers did change the way they attacked him from the first half to the second half as both right-handed pitchers and left-handed pitchers showed a reluctance to use the changeup in favor of increased two-seam fastballs. The pitch utilization data is shown in the table below (pitch classification and data from TexasLeaguers.com).
Although Aviles has been primarily a starting shortstop he has proven that he can handle second base. In 116 career starts there (1071.2 innings) at second base he has a negative UZR/150 (-5.6), but he has committed only 14 errors in his 628 chances at the position (.978 fielding percentage).
Aviles can help on the other side of the ball, too. In 284 career plate appearances against left-handed pitching Jason Kipnis has hit .223/.306/.300; Aviles has fared considerably better, with a .295/.339/.458 line in 574 plate appearances.
Whether the Indians trade Asdrubal Cabrera, or not the organization will have to find a hedge for Jason Kipnis against the dreaded sophomore slump and someone to help alleviate some of his exposure to left-handed pitching. For now Mike Aviles fills that role better than anyone else.