Is Dodgers recent minor league signing the next unexpected bullpen weapon?
Every year, the Los Angeles Dodgers have an unexpected, unsung hero emerge as a reliable bullpen weapon to help bridge the gap to the ninth inning.
In 2021, it was Phil Bickford. In 2020, it was Victor Gonzalez. In 2019, it was Adam Kolarek and Yimi Garcia. You get the point. We can keep going back during the Andrew Friedman era and find more.
Heading into 2022, though, there are a few more problems than we initially expected. Joe Kelly, Corey Knebel and Jimmy Nelson are gone. Kenley Jansen might not return either, depending on how negotiations transpire after the lockout. That’s four key bullpen pieces subtracted from an already shaky unit.
Fans would certainly prefer a couple of marquee additions here beyond Daniel Hudson, but it’s clear Friedman can be counted on to find some more diamonds in the rough, especially if he’s confident guys like Bickford, Mitch White, Justin Bruihl, Alex Vesia, Evan Phillips and others can parlay their 2021 successes into next year.
Is Friedman adding another unexpected contributor to that group with his latest move?
The Los Angeles Dodgers signed pitcher Sam Gaviglio to a minor league deal.
Over the weekend, the Dodgers signed former Royals, Blue Jays, Mariners and Rangers pitcher Sam Gaviglio, who last appeared in an MLB game back in 2020. That year, he saw the mound four times, but he had a “career” season in 2019 after fully transitioning to a relief role.
Gaviglio initially came up as a starter, but didn’t exactly make an impact in that line of work. The Blue Jays moved him to the bullpen and he responded by appearing in 52 games, registering a 4.61 ERA, 4.64 FIP, 98 ERA+, 1.12 WHIP and 88 strikeouts in 95.2 innings of work. Nothing special, but also not detrimental to the operation as a whole.
Is there something here the Dodgers can “unlock” like they’ve done with so many others? It’s possible, based on some advanced metrics.
Back in 2019, the only categories Gaviglio was wildly below average in were expected slugging percentage, fastball velocity, fastball spin and curveball spin, according to Baseball Savant. Everything else he was above league average or exactly average: average exit velocity (58th percentile), hard hit percentage (60th percentile), xWOBA (60th percentile), xERA (60th percentile), xBA (59th percentile), barrel percentage (58th percentile), whiff percentage (67th percentile), walk percentage (87th percentile), chase rate (48th percentile) and strikeout percentage (49th percentile).
That year, he also used his slider a ton (it was his most thrown pitch) before introducing a sinker in 2020. Perhaps the Dodgers have him go back to the slider, work on his fastball spin rate, and determine a proper usage for his sinker and changeup to complement them?
Gaviglio’s slider was gradually emphasized from 2017-2019 before it saw a dip in his abbreviated 2020. The Dodgers might have taken notice there and decided to take a flyer now. So don’t be shocked if he’s the new Bickford come late July.