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.
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?