Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 34: Zach McAllister
Bob Toth | On 01, Mar 2016
As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 34 days
Just when it looked like Zach McAllister had found a role to flourish in as a member of manager Terry Francona’s bullpen during the 2015 season, the Indians skipper throws a wrench into the whole thing as spring training starts by stating that the former Cleveland starting pitcher would be stretched out during camp to potentially compete for a role in the rotation again.
So was this just pandering by Francona, or is he really willing to take another glance at McAllister on a starting staff with more candidates than spots available?
The tall right-hander has made starts in each of his first five seasons at the Major League level, but has never gone a full season with the staff and the results have been inconsistent at best. His best season may have been in 2013, when he was 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 24 games, but missed almost all of June and July while injured. Instead of building upon the success, he fell to 3-7 with a 5.67 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 15 starts the next season.
It was in that season that he had a handful of opportunities in the bullpen and showed some promise. He appeared in seven games, struck out 14 batters against two walks in 13 innings, and allowed 13 hits. His strikeout rate per nine inning jumped by 2.3 and his WHIP was just 1.15 in the small sample size. It was enough that after he was shelled in the home opener against the Detroit Tigers in the fourth game of the 2015 season, he retreated to the bullpen and put together a solid year overall with the bad start behind him.
“I think the way that I work, the way that I prepare, it’s probably a starter mentality as far as the work load that I like to do before spring training,” said McAllister in a video last week on MLB.com. “I enjoyed the bullpen last year. I had a great time out there. It was a new experience for me but definitely enjoyable.”
As for where McAllister lands on the roster for this season, it would appear his most likely destination is in the bullpen, but Francona could not rule out the possibility that something could change.
“We’re not telling him he can’t start,” Francona was quoted in a Cleveland.com story posted on February 20. “But from where we are now, it looks like he’s probably a better weapon in the bullpen. That can change.
“If you’re a starter and you’re coming through a lineup a second time and you’re having trouble with your off-speed, so many times you look up and you’re at 100 pitches after five innings because you have to work so hard. Out of the bullpen, especially with the extra velocity, he’s seeing hitters one time and he’s a weapon, as opposed to a guy who’s throwing too many pitches and working too hard.”
The biggest concern for McAllister in the past was his lack of strong secondary pitches to complement his fastball. It would lead to him being exposed to hitters the second and third time through the batting order. In the bullpen, McAllister can use his smaller pitch arsenal to his advantage.
So far, the results have shown. In 66 career starts, he has an ERA of 4.52, a WHIP of 1.44, and has averaged 2.40 strikeouts per walk and 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings. In 67 relief appearances, he has a 2.54 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 3.88 SO/W, and 10.7 SO/9 rate, all while opposing hitters have batted 41 points lower while he was in that role.
While the starting rotation seems to be largely settled with Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and one of Josh Tomlin or Cody Anderson as the likely staff to start the season, the bullpen is an area of much greater concern. Beyond Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw for the eighth and ninth innings, the other relief options are question marks. Some are young and inexperienced while others are veterans coming off of bad seasons. If the starting staff is as good as hoped and hyped, there will not be much work to go around in the middle innings, but history has shown that Francona loves to match up late in games and will use his men as often as possible.
McAllister fills a much greater need in the ‘pen and it plays to his strengths perfectly.
Photo: Jason O. Watson/Getty Images