The Yankees' bullpen currently has a few openings. Among the names mentioned as potential acquisitions are David Robertson and Zach Britton, whose departures created those vacancies in the first place. In terms of bringing in new faces, Adam Ottavino has been rightfully talked up as one of the premier relievers in free agency. However, there is one lesser-known name that deserves to be mentioned in the conversation. Left-handed reliever Luis Avilan, who was non-tendered by the Phillies this offseason, could be a solid pickup for the Yankees.
Avilan debuted with the Braves in 2012 and has put up solid overall numbers since then, registering a career 3.09 ERA/3.25 FIP in 308.2 innings pitched. A closer look at his career reveals a tale of two pitchers. Originally a pitch to contact, fastball-heavy groundballer, Avilan transitioned to a high-strikeout pitcher by increasing his changeup usage since 2016, when he was traded to the Dodgers.
In addition to generating whiffs, Avilan possesses impressive contact management skills. This past season, he owned the second-lowest hard hit rate (22.2%) among all MLB relievers and allowed an average exit velocity of just 84.7 mph. Those skills have allowed him to record HR/9 marks of 0.39 and 0.60 respectively over the past two years. When it comes to keeping the ball in the park, it doesn’t get much better than Avilan.
Avilan’s skillset is a perfect fit for the Yankees. Adept at limiting hard contact and homers, Avilan is unlikely to be hurt by a move to the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. Being left-handed with a track record of success, he could provide some balance to the Yankees’ righty-heavy pen. And as a pitcher with relatively infrequent fastball usage and above average secondaries, his pitch mix is consistent with the Yankees’ low-fastball strategy. Sure, you can quibble with the strategy itself, but it’s worked for Avilan, as the numbers certainly bear out.
There is some risk in Avilan’s profile that should be noted. Both his swinging strike rate (10.4% in 2018, 1.0 points lower than career average, 3.6 points below 2017) and chase rate (32.5% in 2018, 2.9 points below career average, down 7.6 points from 2017) are trending down, suggesting a decline in stuff. In addition, Avilan has never had a truly elite season, suggesting that his ceiling isn’t as high as the top relievers on the market.
Yet Avilan is on the right side of 30, and his strikeout rate and contact management skills are still intact, suggesting that he probably won’t fall apart in 2019. Plus, his low profile and not-too-high ceiling should limit his price tag and allow the Yankees to snag him on a one-year deal, mitigating the risks detailed above. All things considered, Avilan is one of the better values on the market right now.
The Yankees shouldn’t skimp on the bullpen, but splurging on two of Robertson, Ottavino or Britton might not be feasible depending on how the Manny Machado sweepstakes go down. Avilan represents a younger and cheaper option for the bullpen, and may be a better investment than committing multiple years to Robertson or bringing back Britton at a higher price tag. Provided the Yankees make a serious run towards Ottavino, signing Avilan to round out the bullpen would be a nice complementary move.