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What Luis Avilan can bring to the Yankees’ bullpen

The lefty reliever can be a sufficient piece out of the bullpen if he’s able to rebound from a rocky 2019 season.

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Amidst the hype surrounding Derek Jeter and his Hall of Fame election, the Yankees signed left-handed pitcher Luis Avilan to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training on Wednesday. He was with the New York Mets last season, but had some trouble as he pitched to a career-high 5.06 ERA in 32 innings. Given his age and performance last year, it’s unclear what to expect from him in 2020, hence why he received a minor-league deal. However, if he’s able to get back on track, he could be a complimentary piece to an already dominant bullpen.

The 30-year-old Avilan has been in the league since 2012. He began his career with the Braves, but has shuffled around a bit as he has also played with the Dodgers, White Sox, Phillies, and most recently the Mets. Avilan had some outstanding seasons in the past, but is coming off a down year.

Avilan threw his changeup roughly 60% of the time last year, according to Baseball Savant. It has been a reliable and consistent pitch for most of his career, but it was hard-hit in 2019. The 83.8 mph exit velocity against his changeup was the highest of his career. Another big component to his game is getting lefty hitters out. Opposing left-handed batters registered a mere .172 wOBA when facing Avilan last year. Unfortunately for him though, MLB has instituted a three-batter minimum rule which requires pitchers to either face a minimum of three batters in an appearance or pitch to the end of a half-inning. This seems like it will directly impact pitchers such as Avilan, especially since he had problems getting right-handers out in 2019. As a unit, righties collectively smashed him for a .446 wOBA and .587 slugging percentage. If he can’t fix that problem, that could spell trouble for him.

While the numbers indicate that he wasn’t very impressive last year, they don’t tell the whole story. Avilan was injured in May which kept him out for two months. While navigating those injury issues, he posted a 9.28 ERA in his first 11 games. Upon returning from the injured list in July, he got back on track, sporting a sub-three ERA through the final three months of the season. If he is able to replicate that tail-end of the season and translate it to the upcoming season, he will put himself in a good spot.

When spring training begins next month, Avilan will be competing for a back-end reliever role. His main competition will be Jonathan Loaisiga, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Holder, among many others. Those household names may have a leg-up on him because of familiarity, but Avilan obviously has a legitimate shot to squeeze onto the Opening Day roster if he performs well. If he’s able to stay healthy and improve on retiring right-handed hitters, he could establish himself as a leading candidate for a spot in the bullpen.