A reader thinks Alex Avila is tipping the Tigers’ pitches

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Things are pretty bleak for the Tigers these days. They’ve lost first place and their Cy Young pitchers just got rocked in back-to-back games. It’s enough to push some Tigers fans over the edge.

Or, maybe it’s enough to make some Tigers fans try to figure out what’s going on themselves. Take HBT reader Bill, who wrote me a few minutes ago with a possible explanation that, while he admits is thin, perhaps imaginary and undoubtedly imbued with some element of trying to cope with tragedy, is at least interesting:

Just something I noticed and started tracking yesterday…

The Tigers recent pitching woes really make me believe that there must be some way they were tipping their pitches. As I watched yesterday’s game against the Royals, I noticed Avila doing something that may or may not be a tell.

He gives the infield position signs, sends the signs to the pitcher and then does one of the following:

  • Smacks his glove once, fiddles/tightens it and it’s usually a fastball.
  • Smacks his glove twice, fiddles/tightens it and it’s usually a an off-speed pitch.

I started tracking around the second inning and got a 85% success rate at guessing the pitches. It’s probably nothing (and i’m reaching for an explanation for our recent performance) but I have to believe the staff or the catcher is tipping their hand somehow. Avila really was obvious when Phil Coke was in there. He stopped after that inning (for the most part). Compared to Salvador Perez, who never alters his routine, it stuck out some.

He notes that Tigers backup catcher Bryan Holaday¬†has a lower catchers’ ERA when he catches, and that Avila’s has gone way up. He admits that the differences aren’t wildly divergent, however, and I imagine we’d all agree that trying to read something into catchers ERA is fraught with difficulty and may be folly.

Still, fun to think about. And something to watch for. Unless you’re a Tigers fan, of course.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.