Indians Should Give Long-Term Consideration to Allen
Craig Gifford | On 20, Nov 2016
Major League Baseball closers do not fall off of trees. It is not easy to find a truly good one. The Indians have one and now they need to work toward keeping him around for the foreseeable future.
Unlike some teams who go through reliever after reliever in the hopes of finding one who can handle the duties and the pressure of closing a game out in the ninth inning, Cleveland has one of the best in those situations in Cody Allen.
Allen, who turns 28 years old today, has spent the last three seasons as Cleveland’s closer and has rarely disappointed. His level of consistency out of the bullpen is as good as any reliever, a position that tends to fluctuate from year to year, outside of the truly strong bullpen arms.
A 23rd round pick in the 2011 amateur draft, Allen shot through Cleveland’s minor league ranks. He made his Major League debut on July 20, 2012, a mere 13 months after being selected out of High Point University in North Carolina. He never looked back after that.
In his debut half season, Allen pitched out of the ‘pen 29 times and posted a 3.72 ERA. For a player getting his first taste of big league action, that was pretty good. In 2013, he started showing just how special he could be. He made 77 appearances, becoming one of manager Terry Francona‘s most reliable relievers for a team that earned home field for the one-game Wild Card game. He carried a 2.43 ERA, earning enough votes to finish sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting that season. More importantly, he began to emerge as Cleveland’s closer of the future. He saved two games as then-closer Chris Perez was struggling with both on- and off-the-field issues by the end of the 2013 campaign.
From 2014-2016 Allen has been as dependable a closer as just about anyone in MLB and has also appeared in tight situations that did not carry a save opportunity. He has been one of Francona’s go-to guys out of the pen ever since he took over as the Tribe skipper, starting in 2013.
In his three full seasons of closing, Allen has saved 92 game in 103 chances. He topped out at 34 in 2015 and added another 32 in 2016. That number could have been even more this past year if not for Cleveland’s acquisition of star reliever Andrew Miller. In fact, that whole scenario showed even greater worth in Allen. Some proven closers may have complained had their team picked up someone like Miller, who has a closer’s pedigree. Instead, Allen toed the company line of agreeing to pitch in any situation Francona saw fit. Sometimes that meant Allen was the eighth-inning setup guy, rather than the end-of-game hurler he had become accustomed to when his team had a late close lead.
Allen may not have had the microscopic ERA of Baltimore’s Zach Britton. However, his key value is in his consistency. His ERA has been under 3.00 in each of his four full seasons with the Tribe. His best was 2.07 in 2014 when he closed 24 games as a first-year closer. This past season he was at 2.51. Considering that number stood at 6.97 after April goes to tell you just how good Allen was from May on.
Cleveland’s closer was absolutely lights out when it mattered the most. Between September and October, including playoff games, Allen pitched in 23 contests, covering 26 2/3 innings, giving up a grand total of one run.
Allen saved his best work for last. While Miller got all the postseason adulation and the ALCS MVP trophy, the Indians closer was dominant in the postseason. He appeared in ten playoff games and did not allow a run in 13 2/3 frames of work. He was among the biggest reasons that the Tribe got to within one win of its first World Series championship since 1948.
Allen has absolutely been as good a closer as the Indians have had in years. He could be within a couple years of entering the conversation as the Indians’ best closer ever. That is a conversation that currently only includes Doug Jones, Jose Mesa and Bob Wickman. The latter last tossed a pitch for Cleveland in 2006 and the ninth-inning specialist role was in flux from then until basically 2014. Those are three of the four all-time saves leaders in Indians history with Wickman leading the way with 139. Allen is only 47 saves behind the Tribe’s all-time leader, a number he should easily hit by the time his current contract comes to an end in two years.
From 2007 to the end of 2013, the closing role was manned by the likes of Joe Borowski, Kerry Wood, Fausto Carmona (Roberto Hernandez) and Perez. Save for one dominant season by Perez in 2010, the position was in an up-and-down state of affairs for most of that time. From 2003-2013, that one season for Perez was the only one in which a Tribe closer posted a sub-3.00 ERA. Allen has posted three of those since on his own.
Allen has stabilized a role that the Indians and other teams search long and hard to fill with a quality arm. He is currently under team control through 2018, his age 29 season. After that he becomes a free agent and would be pretty well sought after if he were to reach the open market.
The Indians would be wise to strongly consider getting Allen signed up with something along the lines of a five- or six-year contract, buying out the first three or four seasons of his free agency years. It would also get him to a point where he would be hitting his mid-30s and closing in on the back end of his career.
Allen has locked down many games for the Indians over the past few seasons and is more than likely to do so for the next couple. Now is the time for the Tribe to lock down their closer with a long-term deal that would ensure he goes into the Cleveland record books as, by far, the best to save games in club history.
Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images