The signing of left-handed reliever Luis Avilan went mostly unnoticed as it occurred the same day the Mets signed veteran infielder Jed Lowrie to a two-year deal.
However, I'm told by team sources that the organization firmly believes Avilan can successfully replace Jerry Blevins as the team's primary left-handed reliever.
"It's a smart pickup by the Mets, and whoever led the charge on him," an American League scout told me. "He has pitched exceptionally well since finding command of his change up."
Avilan now throws his change up roughly 10 miles per hour slower than his four-seam fastball.
Avilan entered the league in 2012 as a pitch-to-contact, heavy-fastball, groundball pitcher. He then started striking out more batters when introducing his change up. Interestingly, when he further improved the gap in velocity between his fastball and change, his strikeouts went down but batters started making weak contact against him -- so much so he had the second-lowest hard hit rate among all relievers last season, during which balls hit against him averaged an exit velocity of just 84.7 mph.
The above is probably why the Phillies acquired Avilan last August from the White Sox in trade for a minor-league pitcher, especially considering their primary competition down the stretch was the left-handed heavy Nationals, Cubs and Braves.
In Chicago last season, he had a 3.86 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. He pitched slightly better with the Phillies, with whom he had a 3.18 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 12 appearances. More importantly, though, during 617 plate appearances, left-handed hitters have batted just .213 against him with a .289 OBP, during his seven-year MLB career.
He actually pitched better against left-handed batters when with the White Sox then he did with the Phillies, though he also had four times as many opportunities in Chicago than Philadelphia.
Despite his limited use with the Phillies, Avilan has been particularly effective against the NL East. In 315 at-bats, the division is batting .187 against him, with left handed hitters batting under .100. For what it's worth, Bryce Harper is 2 -for-12 against him, while striking out five times.
"He never lets up the long ball because he's not afraid to throw that change up inside to left-handed batters, which is why he's been so successful against them," the same scout explained. "If he continues keeping the ball in the park and pitching to lefties that way, as he's done, he should perform quite well in Citi Field."
It's worth noting that hitters are recently swinging less at the pitches he throws in the strike zone, as well as chasing fewer pitches out of the zone, but this could also be why -- when they do swing -- the ball barely leaves the infield.
Based on composite projections from multiple systems, if he pitches around 40-50 innings this season, he can expect to have around a 3.70 ERA, while holding lefties near his career .213 average.
The Mets did not have a left-handed specialist last season. It was assumed Jerry Blevins would be in that role, but he actually pitched to more right-handed hitters than left-handed. And when he did pitch against lefties, they reached base 34 percent of the time.
As of now, Avilan is expected to compete with Hector Santiago and Daniel Zamora, who at 25 years old had a 2.38 FIP in 16 appearances during his MLB debut last season.
Santiago, 31, has pitched eight years in the big leagues, during which left-handed batters have a .355 OBP against him, while they've hit .249 and striking out just 18 percent of the time.
According to the Bergen Record's Matt Ehalt, Brodie Van Wagenen went so far as to say Wednesday at Citi Field that there's a good chance Avilan makes the team's Opening Day roster.
"We are pleased to see these types of proven players want to be a part of what we are trying to build," Van Wagenen said about Avilan and Lowrie.
Had he been tendered a contract by the Phillies, Avilan was expected to be paid roughly $4.5 million next season by way of salary arbitration. The Mets signed him to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training, which means he has the potential to be a significant bargain if he performs up to par.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!