What role will Zach McAllister play at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, if any?

1With my fingers cramping from untwisting the smallest screws and clipping the smallest rubber bands known to man (seriously, who puts together these toys, and do they ever want them out of the box), let’s get right into the business of the day before my hands completely quit working altogether.

There really hasn’t been a lot of news coming through the pipeline here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, which truly is a sign the the Indians’ plan of building their team from within is starting to come fruition. There may be another twist or turn that we don’t see coming, but as a whole, you are likely looking at the bulk of the 2015 club right now.

This is a good team. This is a really good team…on paper…looking at it in December.

You truly get the feeling that the whole of this team will be even greater than the sum of its parts, which isn’t a knock on the parts. They’re pretty darned good, but this team still lacks the stars most other contending teams can boast.

While this team boasts Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and MVP candidate Michael Brantley, both were players that “came out of nowhere,” to most Major League baseball experts, even if their skill was discernible to the most ardent Indians’ followers. There are other opportunities for players to step out this season, but the level of consistency from top-to-bottom of the line-up and rotation looks to be fairly high.

Still, it’s a flawed team, but one with a lot of depth and pieces that can help Terry Francona and the team overcome any deficiencies that may crop up throughout the season. One such “flaw” that could come out as the year progresses is the back-end of the bullpen. On the outside looking in, there appears to be good depth and a solid group of both right-handed relievers, but lefties as well. As September told us though, even the best relievers can wear down if they’re used too much.

With that said, let’s get rolling with today’s abbreviated Corner, looking at one possible player in that rotation, who could pay huge dividends during the pennant stretch.

I still think that the Indians biggest need this offseason remains a power-armed, right-handed pitcher. I also think we could see an internal candidate take over this spot, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Consider this: Bryan Shaw led the league in appearances last season with 80, and was eighth in innings pitcher-for-a-reliever, with 76 1/3. Scott Atchison was tied at 33rd with 70 appearances, and 16th in innings pitched-for-a-reliever with 72. Closer Cody Allen was tied for fourth in appearances with 76, and 27th in innings pitched-for-a-reliever with 69 2/3.

You can argue that both Shaw and Allen had their worst months during the worst time to do it; in September, and much of this is likely credited to their perceived overuse.

I happen to agree with that notion that their struggles were more in-tuned with exhaustion and less to do with the pressure of important baseball games, but will equally admit that it’s more of a preference. I will admit that this is more of a personal preference, since “overuse” is something that can be overcome with added arms, which is the point of this entire piece.

Atchison was the enigma to all of this struggle, as the “old man” of the bullpen was pretty good closing out the season, and he may just have been the best member of the bullpen in September.

Good managers always worry about the bullpen, regardless of success, and this year should be no different. When your two right-handed, back-end staples (Shaw and Allen) log as many innings as they did last year, and when the glue that holds this all together is a third back-end arm that is pushing 40, you need to at least consider a supplemental player going forward.

This isn’t meant to be a knock on Atchison, but I’m not sure another year of high-leverage seasons is the way to go. Atchison has had good seasons prior, but they’ve been sporadic, and age isn’t doing him any favors.

There are numerous players that are knocking on the door that have been developed in the system, and this isn’t meant to exclude the left-handed, back-end options either, since Marc Rzepczynski, Nick Hagadone and Kyle Crockett all possess the type of ability that could make them pretty special in that role. With Francona a big proponent of late-inning match-ups, it’s key that he have options that can help keep the key players fresh throughout the season.

If the Indians are to contend in a much improved A.L. Central, this is an area that will have to be addressed, especially on the right side of the rubber.

I’ll focus on some of these players in the coming weeks, but I do think common sense tells us that there is a potential answer is already on the 40-man roster, but who has been a starter in 65 of his 72 appearances, and that is Zach McAllister. It’s important to note that his seven relief appearances closed out the season in 2014, and were born more out of necessity than out of a full-time move to the pen. Truth is, after Carlos Carrasco‘s rise last season, I still believe that McAllister can be a really good Major League starter, but the simple fact is that there may not be an opportunity for him in a pretty good rotation.

If we’re to get right down to it, he’s not going to sniff the 2015 rotation unless bad things happen to the guys ahead of him, or really good things happen to him in spring training. The reality is he’s not going to be better than Corey Kluber, while Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer all possess a lot more upside than does the version of McAllister we’ve seen start in the past. While McAllister has had his moments, they’ve all pitched better than McAllister more recently, and likely figure into the Indians’ future rotational plans.

With Gavin Floyd added to the mix, there’s just no room for him in this rotation, at least on paper.

The catch-22? McAllister is out of options, and there’s no way the Tribe will risk losing a potential “fill-in” piece to their rotation when he could be extremely valuable in the bullpen. Here are his overall numbers as a reliever…

Split W L ERA G GF IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SO9
as Reliever 1 0 2.77 7 2 13.0 13 4 4 0 2 14 1.154 9.7

…and his gamelogs:

Date Inngs Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA BF Pit Str StL StS GB FB LD PU SB 2B 3B IBB GDP SF
September Inngs Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA BF Pit Str StL StS GB FB LD PU SB 2B 3B IBB GDP SF
Sep 1 4-7 3.1 5 2 2 1 4 0 0 5.89 17 56 35 11 7 6 6 4 0 0 1 0 1 0 0
Sep 8 5-7 2.0 4 2 2 1 1 0 0 5.97 9 37 23 4 5 3 4 2 0 1 0 0 0 1 0
Sep 15 GS-6 L(3-7) 6.0 7 2 2 0 6 0 0 5.74 24 91 64 19 9 8 10 3 1 1 2 0 0 0 0
Sep 19 7-7 H(1) 0.1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5.72 1 5 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sep 20 6-7 2.0 1 0 0 0 5 0 0 5.58 6 30 22 6 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sep 22 9-GF 1.0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 5.51 4 13 10 1 2 0 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sep 24 5-7 W(4-7) 2.1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 5.36 8 23 17 5 3 3 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sep 28 8-GF 2.0 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 5.23 7 21 16 3 4 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
86.0 96 54 50 28 74 7 0 5.23 377 1

Obviously, the overall numbers are very good, but if you look closer, it was clear that the Indians began using him very differently after his 91-pitch relief appearance on September 15th. In his final five relief appearances, McAllister was hitting 97-plus pretty regularly (in four-out-of-five of his appearances, and 96-plus in the other), didn’t give up a run, could pitch multiple innings, and was…well…dominant.

The biggest knock on McAllister throughout his career was that he couldn’t finish off games he started. During the worst-of-times, he couldn’t make it past the fifth inning, and he just didn’t have the plus pitches to make him special and get him out of jams.

In essence, McAllister utilized his fastball, cutter and change as a starter. He also had the curveball and spitter in his arsenal, but past his fastball, there really wasn’t another special pitch to turn to. Once hitters began settling on that fastball, or once his velocity would drop as the game wore on, he began to struggle.

Last year prior to the season, McAllister worked hard on his slider, to perhaps add another “out” pitch, and it just didn’t work out. The reality is that he didn’t likely have the proper time to actually develop his slider, but when you have the type of depth at the major league level that the Indians had, performance comes at a premium.

After the big right-handers struggles, he was sent to the minors where he was absolutely dominant as a starter.

After spending a couple of months in Columbus, McAllister returned to the Indians and became a fastball-dominant, two-pitch reliever.

His average velocity jumped by two MPH, and he began pushing the radar to the upper-stretches of 97 MPH, as noted in the table above. Rumors had him hitting 98, but according to Brooks Baseball, he never eclipsed that mark.

Still, would you take a guy in the bullpen who can log multiple innings and flat-out dominate when he’s in the game?

Yes, this is much too small a sample-size to truly base any sort of future performance on, but the facts are that McAllister’s chances of winning a rotation spot are slim. It’s equally likely that the Indians aren’t going to simply designate him for assignment, since he’s out of options.

You can put the rest together.

He is going to make the team as a reliever, and likely be useful to swallow up innings that would normally go to Atchison, Shaw and Allen. McAllister could be the guy that allows this pen to be as fresh as a spring daisy come September, which would be a welcome change to what happened at the end of 2014.

Consider the case of Carlos Carrasco in 2014 that I mentioned before. A case could be made that even though Corey Kluber won the Cy Young, Carrasco was as valuable down the stretch as was Kluber. After struggling as a starter early in the season, Carrasco rebounded as a bullpen hand before crossing the threshold back to starter.

Could McAllister provide the same type of value that Carrasco did last season? He certainly has the type of work ethic and intangible skills that could make him a valuable commodity on the 25-man roster.

Who knows, perhaps the Indians will finally be able to utilize his talent where they need it the most…in the bullpen.

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One thought on “What role will Zach McAllister play at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, if any?

  1. Pingback: Cleveland Indians’ Corey Kluber anchors staff with few questions | Everybody Hates Cleveland

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