Going younger in 2012 paid dividends for the Braves relief corps.
In the grand spectrum of the season's numbers, Cory Gearrin and Luis Avilan's 56.0 combined innings were still less than five different Braves relievers. But their performances in their limited capacities were still positive glimpses of what could possibly be very useful tools out of the Braves' bullpen in the future.
Cory Gearrin pitched in just 20.0 innings for the big league Braves, after spending almost the entire first half of the season in AAA-Gwinnett, where he held the opposition to a 2.30 ERA, striking out guys at a 10.9 clip, and a 1.12 WHIP while notching nine saves in the process. His first cameo with the Braves was not very good, being victimized by the Yankees in his only two appearances (2.2IP, 4H, HR). But his second and third stints with the Braves, Gearrin shined, holding 67 big league batters to a .210/.269/.290 slash line while striking out 18 versus just four walks. The groundball specialist also induced three double-plays.
Overall, Gearrin finished out his 2012 season with the big club with a 1.80 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 1.10 WHIP and a 2.55 SIERA, all excellent numbers, albeit in a limited sample size. Regardless, in terms of value, he was worth 0.3 fWAR and 0.5 bWAR respectively, concluding that he was an overall positive contributor to the squad.
I could very well be mistaken, but I want to say that at 26-years old, and having spent three years in AAA now, Cory Gearrin is out of minor league options. The good news is that Gearrin really has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues, and stands a good chance at cementing a spot in the bullpen in 2013. One of the biggest knocks on Gearrin has always been his drastic platoon splits; while he is bloody murder on righties (.159/.229/.182, 8.00 K/BB, career), left-handed batters still feast on him like an all-you-can-eat buffet. However, it's not saying a whole lot, but his 2012 platoon split of .345/.406/.586 against lefties was an improvement from a year prior.
As long as Gearrin is properly utilized, as a ROOGY and groundball specialist against righties, there's no doubt that he would be a very important weapon out of the Braves bullpen. Just keep off the mound against lefties, and everything should be fine.
Which brings us to the guy that the Braves should consider more often to face the lefties, in Luis Avilan, who turned out to be a very pleasant surprise out of the Braves bullpen throughout the 2012 season. Avilan was called up in mid-July when Jonny Venters was put on the disabled list. Plucked straight out of AA-Mississippi, Avilan was almost promptly placed into the role of the team's garbage man. Of his first five outings, Avilan was used for multiple innings three times, two in lopsided losses, and once in a lopsided Braves win. They were rough numbers for the 22-year old, as he adjusted to major league competition, but once the calendar turned to August, Luis Avilan found his bearings, and it was almost all zeroes for the rest of the season.
Overall, Avilan was called out of the bullpen 31 times, and pitched in a total of 36.0 innings. Eleven times, he was used for more than a single inning, with nine of those instances being 2.0+, relieving Cristhian Martinez a good deal of garbage time. The situations may have been lower leverage for Avilan, but he still held 142 major league hitters to an excellent .211/.273/.273 line while striking out 33 versus just ten walks, with a 2.00 ERA, 2.54 FIP, 1.03 WHIP and 3.09 SIERA, all of which were outstanding numbers. As expected, Avilan was effective against left-handed batters, but although the platoon split shows him weaker against righties, they still hit just .231/.277/.282 off of Avilan, which means he's capable of being more than just a LOOGY.
Value-wise, for his valuable and efficient pitching in garbage time, Avilan was worth 0.7 fWAR and 0.8 bWAR respectively.
Although the numbers seem to indicate that Luis Avilan can cut it at the major league level, I kind of see a guy in a precarious position, that has so very little to do with his actual talent, ironically. As Bennett pointed out in Eric O'Flaherty's review, EOF could become a potential trade chip, to which if he is traded, then Avilan would very likely earn a spot on the 25-man roster, as he's demonstrated the ability to be effective against both righties and lefties. But on the flip side, if the Braves keep EOF, or decide to hold him until the deadline, then Avilan's future isn't as guaranteed, at least for this year. He's 23 going into 2013, and has never pitched in AAA, and has an option left. If the Braves get any "veteran reliever presence," then Avilan could be held back in the minor leagues for that reason, or just superficial service clock preservation under the guise of "needs more seasoning" reasons alone.
Regardless of what happens, Cory Gearrin and Luis Avilan are still going to be considered "the weaker" of the Braves relief corp, considering the immense talent in EOF, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. And if that's truly the case, then the Braves are in pretty good shape, because both are young, talented arms that are taking us further and further away from the abysmal L-R relief tandems of Macay McBride and Chad Paronto, and Ray King and Kevin Gryboski of years past.