Aug 29, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Luis Avilan (43) in the sixth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Player Projection – Luis Avilan

Avilan’s Ascent

With the exception of a couple of areas of concern, which I’ll touch on in a moment, Luis Avilan could be the most valuable setup reliever in the Atlanta Braves’ bullpen in 2014!  You’ll hear many opine that Avilan is probably third in line behind Jordan Walden and David Carpenter as the Braves’ go-to setup guy, but it’s entirely possible that Avilan leads the way for the Braves, particularly as the season progresses, and certainly in specific situations.

Avilan was signed as an amateur, international free agent in 2005, but his progress up through the minors certainly wasn’t speedy.  In seven seasons in the minors, Avilan performed reasonably well, posting a 3.42 ERA over those seven, and a 1.248 WHIP.  As a lefty reliever though, Avilan’s numbers, while not impressive, were still pretty good, and his average of 8 Ks per 9 was good enough for him to get his chance in the big show in 2012.  That year, Avilan posted a 2.00 ERA, a 2.54 FIP, and a 23.2 K%, which was exceptional.  When lefty Eric O’Flaherty got injured, Avilan got his chance to do even more.  In 2013, in 75 appearances, Avilan was responsible for 27 holds, with a low 1.52 ERA and a 0.952 WHIP, proving himself to be a true lefty specialist, and making the most of his opportunities as a late game reliever.


Avilan’s Slight Decline

As impressive as Avilan has been though, there are some definite concerns going into 2014.  While his 23.2 K% was great in 2012, his 2013 K% dropped significantly to just 14.8%.  That’s a drop from 8.3 Ks per 9 to 5.3 Ks per 9 on average.  In short, his strikeout rate is clearly dropping.  While this may not seem like a huge concern, as a late inning lefty specialist who’ll likely be used only in specific situations, his decreasing inability to get strikeouts in tough situations against tough hitters is certainly a legitimate concern.

In addition to his drop in strikeouts, if you factor in a .204 BABIP and a SwStr% (percentage of strikes swung at and missed) dropping from 11.1% in 2012 to a lower 8.7% in 2013, that could spell trouble for Avilan.  Those may not be huge dropoffs, but they spell the potential for Avilan to have less success this next season, and these are signs that his ERA is likely to balloon considerably above the low 1.52 ERA he posted in 2013.

The good news is that Avilan may get even better, and one of the things he has going for him is an impressive ground ball rate.  In 2012, Avilan’s GB% was 47.4, and in 2013 increased to 57.7, for an GB% above 50% overall in his time with the Atlanta Braves.  Luis clearly induces ground balls, so even if his K rate is dropping, his ability to get ground ball outs should make him valuable.


Final Take

All-in-all, I think Avilan’s ERA will probably jump up quite a bit, as I’ve indicated, to somewhere around 3.40 to 3.50, and I think he will show a propensity to walk more hitters.  The reasons for that are simply the gradual reduction in his K%, and the simple fact hitters know him better now, are being more patient, and are just hitting Avilan better.  I still feel though that Luis Avilan will be an important and valuable part of the bullpen, and he has the potential to surprise us all and play a pivotal role for the Braves, especially when a good, lefty specialist is needed.  I like this kid, and I hope he performs well above any of our expectations.  What’s your take?

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  • fireboss

    My concern with Luis is his lack of a real out pitch. It means he becomes a ground ball specialist instead of a setup man. If Fredi continues to try and use him for an inning in leverage situations he will get exposed. It makes the signing of that young relief pitcher more important

    • Chris Headrick

      Yeah I think you’re right. He has no change to speak of really according to heat maps, and while he tries to throw it occasionally, it’s not a reliable out pitch. He also has no splitter or slider, and is sparing with the curve. He basically throws a 2 seamer almost all the time. That would have been good info for me to have included in the projection. Maybe I’ll do an edit. Perhaps Luis will work with some of his compadres and coaches to try and develop some other pitches. As you say, he will definitely be exposed if he doesn’t.

  • cothjrr24

    I’m not sure why this is the case, but Braves left-handed relievers have had the uncanny ability to outperform their peripherals. When thinking of left-handed impact relief over the past 4-5 years, 3 names come to mind: O’Flaherty, Venters, Avilan.

    While the first 2 do not show as vast of a difference when comparing ERA and FIP, it’s still quite significant: Here are the 3 and their career numbers:
    Venters: 2.23 ERA compared to 3.00 FIP
    O’Flaherty: 2.85 ERA compared to 3.44 FIP
    Avilan: 1.69 ERA compared to 3.02 FIP

    So, what gives? I’m not sure. Maybe the Braves and their “matchup fetish” have helped these guys find a level of success that supersedes their “supposed to be” numbers. Maybe there’s a strategy being passed down to these guys from within the organization, or an extremely knowledgeable catcher (McCann) that has aided in the overachievements of these 3. Whatever it is, I do feel that Chris is right and that we will see Avilan come down to earth a bit in ’14. However, if history proves true, his numbers will stay a bit lower than his FIP. I could see anything from a 2.5 to 3.5 ERA, but if I were projecting, I’d put it at 2.8.

    Truly, I think Ryan Buchter will have more impact in ’14 than Avilan. If he develops a bit more control, look out MLB!

    Good job!

    • Chris Headrick

      Thanks, and yes, I’m not sure what that magic is either, but we’ll take it won’t we? :) With Avilan, who can really say, but I do think his success may depend on getting with coaches and other players, and trying to develop some other pitches. He’s sort of a one-dimensional lefty.

  • fireboss

    MLB Network’s Shredder on their Top Ten Relief Pitchers Right Now just placed Avilan at number 9 ahead of Benoit based on his two year ERA and a slugging percentage against second only to Kimbrel. He wasn’t on the list for anyone else but still an interesting statistical addition.