After a 2013 season in which the Atlanta Braves had arguably the best bullpen in all of baseball, the team had high hopes for their staff in 2014 with Jonny Venters coming back from Tommy John surgery. One pitcher that the team and fans came to love in the 2013 season was Luis Avilan. With higher expectations in the 2014 season, he hasn’t been able to recreate his magic from a year ago. But why?
First off, you need to know that Avilan isn’t a strikeout reliever. He only struck out 38 batters in his 65 innings pitched in 2013. Therefore, what does he rely on to get his outs in the seventh inning? Of course, as a sinker baller, he is at his best when hitters are putting the ball in play and getting ground outs.
Using his defense to his advantage in 2013, he held batters to a BABIP of .205. He’s still pitching to contact in 2014, but when you pitch to contact, eventually balls are going to fall in. To this point in 2014, he owns a BABIP of .351. Giving up 10 walks and 23 hits in his 19.1 innings to this point isn’t going to make his season go by any better.
As a pitcher in the seventh inning or later in games, most managers want a guy that can go out and strike out at least a batter per inning — something Avilan can’t do. So, what is the solution for him? While he’s in the game, he throws strikes on a fairly consistent basis and just like 2013, the batters are putting the ball in play against him.
At this point in the season, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to get Avilan into some situations where he is pitching with an out in the sixth inning or facing more left-handed batters to try to build some confidence.
So really, the only way for the Braves to get any more success out of Avilan is just hope that more of those balls put into play end up in the hands of Freddie Freeman or Andrelton Simmons. If he can do that, there is absolutely no reason that he can’t return to the pitcher that was absolutely lights-out.