Comparing the contracts for Luis Avilan and Justin Wilson

They say it’s a thin line between love and hate. But is that line any thinner than the one between a multi-year deal and an NRI for a lefty reliever? Channeling my inner Rod Serling, pleased to present for your consideration the contracts handed out this offseason by the Mets to Mr. Luis Avilan (NRI) and Mr. Justin Wilson (2/$10 + performance bonuses). Both of these guys seem like MLB-quality relievers. And while you might prefer one to the other, why the disparity between the two deals?

First, let’s take a look at their career numbers. Avilan made his MLB debut back in 2012 and has appeared in 399 games in the majors. In that time span, he has a 3.09 ERA and a 1.225 WHIP. Wilson also made his debut in 2012 and has 412 appearances under his belt. His lifetime MLB ERA is 3.33 and he has a 1.268 WHIP. We know it’s a “what have you done for me lately” existence for relievers. Last season, Wilson had a 3.46 ERA and a 1.427 WHIP while Avilan’s numbers were 3.77 and 1.368, respectively.

There’s not a whole lot to distinguish them from one another there.

Of course, they’re both lefty relievers. Let’s check in on their ability to retire LHB. In his career, Avilan has limited lefties to a .581 OPS while Wilson has a career .664 mark with the platoon advantage. Last year, they were almost identical, with Wilson enjoying a .003 advantage (.643 to .646) against LHB. This doesn’t really add and clarity to the contract disparity issue.

Interestingly, when the Mets signed Avilan there were several instances of people in the industry saying the Mets made a good move. But when they inked Wilson, there was no such reaction. In fact, if asked to describe how the industry responded, the correct response would be that they didn’t. It wasn’t bad – no one was going WTH – but no one was cheering, either. It seemed like a reasonable deal for both player and team.

It makes you wonder if five million per year was reasonable, and you can get an extremely similar facsimile on an NRI, how picking up Jerry Blevins’ option at eight million was a good move last year.

Be that as it may, we still haven’t answered the original question. And as weird as it may seem to say about the Mets, they might be valuing Wilson higher because he has had more success in his career against – drumroll please – righty hitters.

The Sandy Alderson/Terry Collins regime believed so completely that lefty relievers existed for the sole purpose of retiring lefty batters that they once released a guy mid-season with a 3.15 ERA because he had the nerve, the audacity, the unmitigated gall to have an OPS 144 points lower against righty batters. But now the 2019 Mets give a two-year deal to a lefty reliever with a career mark against RHB 36 OPS points below his mark with the platoon advantage.

Does this mean that they’ll utilize Wilson as, you know, a relief pitcher rather than a specialist? Man, let’s hope that’s the case! Still, let’s not declare victory yet. In his career, Wilson has just 370.2 IP in those 412 games and last year it was 71 games and 54.2 IP.

There’s nothing wrong with having a lefty reliever around to call in a tight situation to face a big lefty bat like a Freddie Freeman or Bryce Harper. You know, assuming that said reliever can actually retire those guys. The problem is when you treat every lefty batter like a Freeman or a Harper and every situation identical to a 3-2 lead with two outs and the bases loaded. And not letting your lefty reliever pitch when the rest of the bullpen is overworked.

No one knows how the 2019 Mets bullpen will look for Opening Day. But it’s entirely possible it will feature three lefty relievers. At the end of last year, Daniel Zamora came up and did a fine job in a small sample. With the signings of Avilan and Wilson, you wouldn’t want to wager on Zamora going north with the club. But at the same time, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he did.

And those three southpaws have done okay against our big lefty hitters. They’ve limited Freeman to one hit in five trips to the plate and Harper to four hits in 21 PA. And while Harper has done well against Wilson (2-4, HR, 2 BB) he is 2-12 with 5 Ks against Avilan with no extra-base hits.

If you run a seven-man pen, ideally Wilson is the sixth guy in there, one you use in lower-leverage situations and in higher ones if a (non-Harper) lefty is due up. Can you carry Wilson and a lefty specialist? Sure, if your starters give you innings. But part of that equation is the manager not pinch-hitting for the starter at the drop of a hat. Mickey Callaway seemed to get better at that as last year went along. Hopefully with a new bench coach with a ton of NL experience, we’ll see a more conservative approach to removing the pitcher all 162 games this season.

Is that sixth – or fifth – guy in the pen worth $5 million? That’s a little harder to answer. If it means we don’t have to witness Paul Sewald (46 games, 6.07 ERA) or Tim Peterson (22 games, 6.18 ERA) in 2019 for more than a game or two, then the answer is probably yes. So, welcome aboard Wilson. May you be used as a reliever and not a LOOGY for the duration of your contract.

15 comments for “Comparing the contracts for Luis Avilan and Justin Wilson

  1. January 27, 2019 at 11:27 am

    Wilson is better than Gsellman and can get righties out and is a strike out machine though he does walk a ton of guys too. Wilson at five mil is more than fine and while I’m surprised Avilan got just a minor league deal Wilson is better.

    • January 27, 2019 at 12:56 pm

      To me it’s much more of a coin flip if Wilson is better. We’ll see if Wilson’s horrendous BB rate last year was a one-year blip and if
      Avilan repeats his .333 BABIP. Lifetime, he has a .285 mark in the category.

      • January 27, 2019 at 1:33 pm

        BB rate might’ve spiked in Chicago due to Contreras, who has been rated as the worst pitch framer in baseball.

  2. Artie
    January 27, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    Looks like a very good offseason, but last year looked good too. Bruce,Frazier, Swarzak, even Vargas seemed like good signings to me. You never know, but you do know if you study FA signings they more often don’t work than they do.

    • January 27, 2019 at 1:36 pm

      Disagree that last offseason was good I hated the Vargas and Bruce signings at the time.

  3. Mike Walczak
    January 27, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    It also has a lot to do with the players themselves. Avilan blinked and got a minor league contract. Wilson didn’t blink and he got $ 5 mil.

    I love this stuff, but sometimes, it is too much analysis paralysis. What about the simple joy of the game and adding a couple of left handed pitchers that can help our team.

    I would have choked if they signed Ollie Perez.

    I still smell maybe one more move. Who knows, maybe it could be big.

    That is the fun of being a fan.

  4. TJ
    January 27, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    Brian,
    Yes, yes, the good, old-fashioned “cross-over” lefty pitcher. Quite a rare commodity in the modern game. Having the “stuff” to get out RH as well as LH hitters is literally worth millions. Hopefully, we’ll get the good Wilson, the guy that commands his stuff, has pop and movement, and minimizes the walks. The price is reasonable, albeit with some additional risk baked into the 2nd year. But, this is a veteran guy that should be counted on to go an inning, sometimes low leverage and when others are tired perhaps closer to the back end. For this team, that is worth $5 million. For another $15 million they could have gambled on Miller, and I would have, but hey, it isn’t my money. I do think that Brodie has done a reasonably good job with the pen, stabilizing the back end, allowing for some multi-inning guys, and two lefties (not both LOOGYs) in a 7 man pen. Additionally, they have some flexibility to rotate some younger arms in and out from AAA, without needing to get too many innings from them.

    Now go get a guy or two to challenge that 4/5 spot and head break camp with the best 12 arms.

  5. MattyMets
    January 27, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    Brian – I can’t believe I’m about to write these words, but I agree with every single word and have nothing to add.

    • January 27, 2019 at 1:38 pm

      I’ll try to do better next time.

  6. Chris B
    January 27, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    I liked Wilson when he was on the Tigers two years ago. That year he closed out some games for the Tigers which could suggest he has the core to handle high leverage situations.

    Can top out at 94-95 with a high K%… although it comes with control issues.

    Here’s to hoping that Eiland and Callaway can tap into his potential and as you mentioned, generally become more adept at managing a NL ‘pen after a year of experience.

  7. Chris F
    January 27, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    Hope springs eternal, but the industry sees LOOGYs doing 1 thing. Don’t hold your breath!

  8. TexasGusCC
    January 27, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    A couple of things:

    1. The Mets have had an eight man bullpen and have touched nine man at times (wait til they hit double digits). We are all saying seven, but we don’t know.

    2. I’m not abreast of other franchises, but in Metsville we beat the drum of walks as if they are the evil empire. However, it’s the hittable pitch that hurts more than a walk an inning. Pitchers such as A.J. Ramos (whom I want to sign to a minor league/rehab contract), our Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller, John Franco, Francisco Rodriguez and even the original “Wild Thing” Mitch Williams, had lots of success while having a few hiccups, and a few hiccups is acceptable in baseball. Besides, if a guy doesn’t have it that night, we get someone in their who should do better.

  9. Brendan Vachris
    January 27, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    The pay gap between the two of them is surprising, and I think it speaks more to the bargain they got for Avilan than an overpay for Wilson. Perhaps his former closer experience helped him win the bigger pay day. This gap was a good topic to bring up. As for Blevins, it is tough to compare dollars offseason to offseason since the markets are different, and maybe if he wasn’t overworked he’d have lived up to the $8 mill. Regardless these two signs where a happy withdrawl from the “just enough to be competitive” strategy of previous offseaons.

    • January 28, 2019 at 12:53 am

      In some cases it may be tough to compare offseason dollars but it doesn’t feel that’s the case in the reliever markets the past two years. By picking up the option on Blevins, the Mets chose to pay top dollar for a lefty reliever. Of the 8 lefty relievers last year with no starting possibility that signed major league deals as free agents, only Jake McGee got a higher AAV than Blevins and even that was only $1 million more per season.

  10. January 28, 2019 at 7:23 am

    What does Avilan get as Salary if He makes the Roster? Does his Contract have an out if He doesn’t make the roster?

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