On the surface, Luis Avilan had a mediocre season. He had a 5.06 ERA with a FIP not much better and a declining strikeout rate. In a staff of middling-to-poor relievers who performed much closer to the “poor” end of that spectrum, he didn’t really stand out one way or the other, but behind his apparent difficulty, there were some clear divides that suggest he wasn’t the disappointment he will likely be remembered as.
The Mets picked up Avilan on a minor league deal in January, pretty reasonable for the 29 year old, who was coming off a stretch of three seasons with a combined 3.32 ERA. The left-hander had thrived in a classic LOOGY role and the Mets were lucky enough to snag him one year before MLB rule changes made that role obsolete. The Mets’ history with LOOGYs has been a surprisingly positive one and Avilan was primed to follow in the footsteps of such southpaws as Pedro Feliciano and Jerry Blevins.
It ended up being a tale of two seasons for Avilan, who started the season exceptionally poorly, carrying a double-digit ERA for nearly a month. An early May trip to the injured list with elbow tightness could definitely explain his poor performance, but it’s also notable that over 70% of the batters he faced prior to hitting the IL were right-handed, and they pummeled him accordingly.
Avilan ended up returning in early July and while expectations were low given his early struggles and his long down time, he actually looked very much his prior self and he had a 2.95 ERA over 21 innings the remainder of the season. It certainly helped that he faced a much higher percentage of left-handers upon his return, much more in line with his career usage. And he absolutely dominated those lefties, holding them to a .083/.132/.167 line.
It’s difficult to say whether more appropriate deployment of Avilan early on would have resulted in a better April, or prevented the arm trouble that cost him two months of the season. It certainly couldn’t have hurt and the Mets were badly in need of an effective weapon against the Juan Sotos and Bryce Harpers of the NL East. With a bullpen that bore significant resemblance to an actual garbage fire, Avilan is yet another weapon Mickey Callaway misused in a desperate attempt to find someone, anyone, who could get an out.
With a new coaching staff, the Mets will have another shot at properly utilizing their pitchers, but it’s unlikely that Avilan will be one of them - now that MLB has eliminated the use of single-batter pitchers, lefty specialists are a truly dying breed and it’s hard to imagine there will be much demand, if any, for the particularly esoteric brand of pitching Avilan offers. It’s a shame, both for the players who still have plenty of life left in their arms, but also for the Mets, who missed their last chance to capitalize on a LOOGY.