Luis Avilan brings unique pitching approach

By NICK RABASCO

           Those who follow baseball closely knows that same-side changeups are extremely rare. They make much more sense thrown to opposite-side hitters, as a means to neutralize the platoon advantage. From 2016 to 2018, there were 160,371 pitches thrown by left-handed pitchers to left-handed hitters. Only 4 percent (6,421) of those pitches were changeups. Looking at this another way, just 9 percent of all changeups thrown by left-handed pitchers from 2016 to 2018 were to left-handed hitters.

But there is a left-handed pitcher who likes to throw his changeup to lefties a lot more than the norm. Luis Avilán, signed by the Mets this offseason, has one of the most interesting repertoires in baseball. He’s a left-handed reliever who has thrown his changeup almost half the time in each of the past three seasons.

Of the 55 left-handed pitchers who have thrown at least 500 changeups over the past three seasons, Avilan throws changeups to left-handed hitters far more often than anybody else.

Highest % of Changeups by LHP vs LHB (since 2016)
Luis
Avilán
41.3%
Joey Lucchesi35.2%
Jorge De La Rosa30.7%
Jason Vargas21.7%
David Price17.2%
Tyler Anderson17.0%
Alex Wood16.0%

           
Avilán clearly loves to throw his changeup to lefties. His percentage is also a bit more of an outlier than it seems, because Joey Lucchesi’s “changeup” acts more like a curveball. In 2018, Lucchesi’s changeup averaged about a half an inch of glove-side run. Avilán’s changeup averaged about 6.5 inches of arm-side run, which is much more normal for a changeup.

            Avilan’s changeup usage over the past three years is not only an anomaly when compared to the rest of the league, but it’s a drastic change that he made from earlier in his career. He made his big league debut in 2012, and for the first four years of his career he threw nearly 1,400 pitches to lefties. Only 53 of those pitches were changeups, which comes out to under four percent.

Clearly, Avilán made some major adjustments to his approach. It’s possible that the Dodgers told Avilán to start using his changeup more after his trade from Atlanta in July of 2015. With Atlanta in 2015, Avilán threw 10 percent changeups to lefties. After moving to LA, he threw 17 percent changeups to lefties. In a fairly small sample, Avilán increased his changeup rate at a pretty significant clip.

           With this change in approach, Avilán also saw an increase in strikeout rate. During the first four months of 2015 with Atlanta, he struck out 20 percent of hitters and with the Dodgers it jumped to 27 percent. And look at the difference in his strikeout rate and FIP as the lefty-changeup rate increased the last three seasons with the Dodgers, White Sox and Phillies.

Luis Avilán  
  2012-2015 2016-2018
K% 17.9% 27.7%
FIP 3.46 2.87
IP 197.7 111

          
Avilán isn’t the only lefty who went from Atlanta to Los Angeles to make a change like that (pardon the pun). Alex Wood, who was in the same trade as
Avilán back in 2015, saw a significant spike in his changeup usage against left-handed hitters as well. Looking back at the table above, you’ll find that Wood has the seventh-highest changeup rate against lefties from 2016-2018, 16 percent. Wood debuted with the Braves in 2013 and for the first three years of his career, he only threw changeups to lefties 9 percent of the time. But unlike Avilán, Wood didn’t see too much change in his results after heading to LA.

Avilán now brings his approach to a Mets team with a significant need for a left-handed reliever after going through major bullpen issues last season. He will be one of the more interesting follows in 2019.

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