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There have been worse springs than Alex Avila’s

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Our new catcher has not had a great pre-season. But all told, the D-backs have seen considerably worst.

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MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks-Workout Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Avila started his time as a Diamondback in the Cactus League in the best possible way, with a home-run in his first at-bat against the Reds on February 26. But after that, Avila’s bat went cold: as in, the deep-frozen head of Ted Williams cold. His second hit didn’t come until Tuesday night when he doubled in the fifth inning. That was 23 days after his last knock, breaking a streak of 0-for-22 by our new catcher, which had dropped his batting average down as low as .043. He didn’t seem worried, saying, “Results in spring training mean absolutely nothing,” and adding “My swing feels good. I’m hitting well in BP. I’m going through my routine. It’s just a matter of getting in a rhythm with the game. That’s really it.”

He has a point. As the article linked also mentions, Avila batted barely better than a buck last season, hitting only .116 over in Florida, and that proved to be a precursor to his best season at the plate. But with his average still returning change from that dollar (.083 after the second hit), I wanted to look at the people who had really bad numbers in spring training. The chart below shows the batters with the lowest pre-season average for Arizona, going back as far as mlb.com keeps records, to 2006. Although this is the very epitome of small sample sizes, I drew the line at a minimum of 20 at-bats.

Worst spring batting averages

Year Player Pos G AB H HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
Year Player Pos G AB H HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
2018 Avila, A C 10 24 2 1 1 3 10 .083 .185 .250 .435
2017 Tomas, Y LF 10 26 3 0 4 2 6 .115 .194 .192 .386
2016 Gosewisch, T C 16 42 6 0 5 1 10 .143 .159 .238 .397
2015 Pennington, C SS 13 34 3 0 2 6 8 .088 .220 .118 .337
2014 Jacobs, M 1B 18 31 3 0 2 3 7 .097 .176 .161 .338
2013 Snyder, B RF 19 36 5 0 4 4 11 .139 .225 .167 .392
2012 Krauss, M LF 10 21 4 0 3 2 6 .190 .261 .286 .547
2011 Owings, C SS 16 32 3 0 0 1 10 .094 .171 .125 .296
2010 Montero, M C 20 50 9 0 6 9 8 .180 .317 .240 .557
2009 Skelton, J C 25 40 4 0 0 5 6 .150 .244 .175 .419
2008 Raines Jr., T CF 17 22 3 0 0 2 7 .136 .208 .136 .345
2007 Clark, T 1B 23 48 11 3 12 9 9 .229 .351 .500 .851
2006 Green, S RF 22 61 13 1 8 2 11 .213 .238 .328 .566

You can see Avila is not the only one to have batted below HALF the Uecker Line in the pre-season. And the odds are, with a week of games left, he may well end up getting a knock or two to lift him higher. While there are the expected backup catchers (hello, James Skelton) and middle infielders (Cliff Pennington), there are some surprisingly known names present. Avila wouldn’t even be the only front-line catcher to capture the spring batting anti-crown. Miguel Montero won it for his .180 in 2010, the year after he became our everyday man in the mask. And see who succeeded Miggy in 2011? Though CO’s .094 pre-season average is understable, since at the time he was a raw 19-year-old, who hadn’t played above A-ball.

Of course, there’s more to hitting than average: OPS can give us a more nuanced picture of offensive production. And there, Avila isn’t even the lowest for the D-backs this season, with his two hits a home-run and a double. That “honor” belongs instead to infielder Jack Reinheimer, whose 3-for-27 includes no extra-base hits, leading to a slash of .111/.226/.185, and an OPS of .411 which is 24 points below Avila’s. We did look at the worst OPS’s last spring, when Yasmany Tomas was the man getting off to a slow start. But here’s the annual chart for the worst OPS’s, again with a minimum of 20 spring AB to qualify.

Worst spring OPS

RK Player Pos G AB H HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
RK Player Pos G AB H HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
2018 Reinheimer, J SS 18 27 3 0 2 3 4 .111 .226 .185 .411
2017 Tomas, Y LF 10 26 3 0 4 2 6 .115 .194 .192 .386
2016 Gosewisch, T C 16 42 6 0 5 1 10 .143 .159 .238 .397
2015 Pennington, C SS 13 34 3 0 2 6 8 .088 .220 .118 .337
2014 Jacobs, M 1B 18 31 3 0 2 3 7 .097 .176 .161 .338
2013 Snyder, B RF 19 36 5 0 4 4 11 .139 .225 .167 .392
2012 Bloomquist, W SS 23 68 14 1 5 1 12 .206 .211 .279 .491
2011 Owings, C SS 16 32 3 0 0 1 10 .094 .171 .125 .296
2010 Parra, G LF 24 65 14 1 5 3 13 .215 .246 .292 .539
2009 Skelton, J C 25 40 6 0 1 5 6 .150 .244 .175 .419
2008 Raines Jr., T CF 17 22 3 0 0 2 7 .136 .208 .136 .345
2007 Snyder, C C 17 45 11 0 5 5 5 .244 .327 .267 .594
2006 Green, S RF 22 61 13 1 8 2 11 .213 .238 .328 .566

While there is a fair amount of overlap, there have been other similar diverging examples over the years, where the worst average is not the worst OPS. There has been none more extreme than Tony Clark in 2007. His .229 ranked him at the bottom, but three home-runs and four doubles in his 12 hits, as well as a K:BB of 9:9, got his OPS up to a perfectly reasonable .851. At the other end, the worst spring training numbers of all-time belong to the teenage Chris Owings. He didn’t just go 3-for-32, he had a K:BB ratio of10:1, helping lead to an OPS of just .296 that year. For contrast, Paul Goldschmidt has a better career spring batting average at .314.

That’s actually another point of interest, perhaps. While Avila is correct in terms of a single season, when he says that result in spring training are meaningless, Goldschmidt has now appeared in 167 pre-season games for Arizona, which is the equivalent of more than a full year’s worth of regular play. His overall slash line in these is .314/.387/.519 for an OPS of .906. This is really not far away at all from his career season line: .299/.399/.532, an OPS of .931. I’d have to dig into the other players with a meaningful sample size to see if the same thing happens. It could be the case that those good hitters tend to hit well in spring too: not exactly a startling conclusion!