Dodgers 2016 Season Previews: Luis Avilan
By Alex Campos
Luis Avilan could be a key part to the Dodgers’ bullpen in 2016.
The Dodgers surprisingly had their top lefty reliever exercise his player option, leaving Luis Avilan as their second lefty out of the bullpen.
Avilan was acquired at the deadline in the three-team megatrade that also brought Alex Wood, Mat Latos and Jose Peraza to LA. In 50 appearances with the Braves, Avilan posted a 3.58 ERA/3.66 FIP. In 23 appearances in LA, Avilan posted a lower FIP (3.64), but his ERA rose to 5.17.
Pretty much every number I just typed is often misleading for relievers, doubly so for relievers like Avilan. More often than not, lefty relievers are used in the middle of innings and pulled when facing a tough righty. In Avilan’s 73 appearances last season, he got fewer than three outs 40 times. He faced three or fewer batters in 44 of his appearances. As a reliever that often comes in in the middle of an inning, ERA and FIP are almost always decided by another pitcher. Avilan stranded 47 runners last season, which was tied for the fourth-most in all of baseball. 59 relievers allowed more inherited runners to score than Avilan, which is pretty solid.
Probably the one moment that sticks out to me came on September 1. That game was horrible because it followed up the Dodgers/Giants 14 inning marathon, but Zack Greinke was outpitching Madison Bumgarner and the Dodgers took a 2-0 lead to the eighth. Greinke got the first out, but allowed three straight singles, giving the Giants a run and runners on first and second with one out. Avilan came in and battled with Brandon Belt, but got him to ground into a double play, preserving the Dodger lead and win.
2016 Role and Steamers Projections
J.P. Howell surprised everyone when he exercised his player option. Howell is one of the premier LOOGYs in baseball, so for him to not test the open market and re-up with the Dodgers for just north of $6 million was a shocker. Howell will definitely be the Dodgers’ main lefty reliever, but Avilan will likely be used against tough lefties earlier on in the game.
Steamers likes Avilan to finally outpitch his FIP, with a projected 3.56 ERA/3.77 FIP in 35 appearances. That few appearances would be a bit surprising, especially considering it projects 35 innings in those 35 appearances. The innings might be a bit warmer, but he’ll likely be used in match-ups more often than in a full inning.
What Could Go Wrong?
If Avilan is used well, not a lot could go wrong. He showed the ability to get out of jams and fared well against left handed hitting, as he only allowed six extra base hits and walked three in his 100 appearances against lefties. He did allow 20 singles as well, but his .338 BABIP should hopefully decline a bit.
Avilan’s worst-case is if he becomes ineffective against lefties. Nothing really points to that happening, but he’s only 26 and it’s still unknown how productive he will actually be. In theory, he should be solid LOOGY, but if he’s overused or thrust into a bigger role, it will probably be a huge disappointment.
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What Could Go Right?
If Avilan can pitch up to his FIP, he should be a really dependable lefty reliever, giving the Dodgers two or three good left handed options out of the pen, depending on how Adam Liberatore fares.
His upside isn’t as wide as most of the other arms in the Dodger bullpen and he’s not a huge strikeout guy, so it’s tough to see him become anything more than a lefty specialist. His ceiling, if everything goes well, could be as a poor man’s Howell. Which at least 25 teams in baseball would love to have out of the pen. Avilan is still reasonably young and cheap, and with Howell set to become a free agent next offseason, he could pitch his way into the Dodgers’ long-term plans.