Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 37: Cody Allen

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 – 37 days

After taking a quick glance at some of the dollar amounts paid out to quality closers and relief pitchers in the Majors, it is easy to realize that the Cleveland Indians have a good thing going in Cody Allen.

The rapid development and strong efforts from the Tribe’s closer has helped to continue a stretch of good bullpen work for the organization, even though it has been a focal point of the club’s offseason. Allen stepped up and stepped into the role early in the 2014 season and has not disappointed, even despite some April struggles at the start of the 2015 campaign.

In less than six seasons in professional baseball, Allen has gone from a 23rd round draft pick in 2011 to one of the top closers in the American League. Now, his name should be at the top of the list for consideration by the Indians for a contract extension, especially if his first year of eligibility for arbitration is any indication of his future worth.

Allen was thought to have gotten off to a slow start in 2015 after the club lightened his spring workload in response to heavy use in each of his first two full seasons in the Majors. It may have translated into a rough April, when he allowed nine earned runs and ten runs total in his first eight games of the season (11.57 ERA). The month also included an opposition batting average of .406 while he averaged just 1.57 strikeout per walk.

“It’s our fault. We talked to him a bunch about slowing down at the beginning and, mentally, I don’t think he was quite where he wanted to be when the season started. And that’s our fault — my fault,” manager Terry Francona shared this week on about his approach with Allen last spring. “He’s now pitched three [full] years in the Major Leagues with pretty heavy use, and he’s shown that he can handle it. He’s in great shape, so we just said, ‘Hey, help us get you ready.’”

Over his final 62 games, he finished 51 contests, earning a 2-3 record, was 30-for-33 in saves, posted a 2.02 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, and averaged 4.89 strikeouts per walk and 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

Even though the Indians added him in the middle of the 2011 calendar, he was on the Major League stage one year, one month, and five days later, making him just the second of the players from the class of 2011 to hit the big leagues. He was good, but not great, but his stop in Cleveland did make for his fourth home city of the season, after two games at High-A Carolina, five games at Double-A Akron, and 24 games at Triple-A Columbus. He was a strong 3-2 with three saves, a 1.87 ERA, and a 0.79 WHIP on the farm that year, all while averaging eleven strikeouts per nine innings and 5.89 strikeouts per walk. He was 0-1 in Cleveland in 27 games with a 3.72 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, striking out 8.4 per nine and 1.8 per walk.

The results for the young right-handed reliever were even better in 2013 as he began to see regular late inning work for the club. He was 6-1 on the year with a 2.43 ERA in 77 games and earned his first two MLB saves. Opposing hitters batted just .233 against him and he finished the year with a 1.25 WHIP, 3.38 strikeouts per walk, and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

With the Indians and Chris Perez parting ways following the 2013 season, there was some thought that the still unproven Allen could be a candidate for the closer’s role, but instead, the Indians signed free agent John Axford to a contract for the coming season and Allen worked as the setup guy. The acquisition, however, did not work out as expected and Allen was thrust into the closer’s position when Axford struggled with his command. Between his two roles for the club in the year, he was 6-4 with a 2.07 ERA in 76 games, earning 24 saves and nine holds. He converted all but four save opportunities and struck out 91 batters in 69 2/3 innings for an 11.8 strikeout per nine rate, the second consecutive season that he led the pitching staff in strikeout rate.

Allen finished an AL-high 58 games in 2015, going 2-5 with a 2.99 ERA and 1.17 WHIP for the year. He was 34-for-38 in save opportunities, giving him the sixth-highest total in the league. His 99 strikeouts were third-most among all AL relievers and fourth-most in all of baseball, trailing New York’s Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, and new Yankee reliever and former Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. His strikeout rate of 12.85 was tops on the Indians staff and a new career high, as well as the AL’s third highest rate and MLB’s fifth highest by all pitchers with a minimum of 60 innings lobbed.

Of his 34 saves, seven were multi-inning efforts, with six four-out saves and one five-out save on August 12 against the New York Yankees.

This offseason, there were rumors that the Reds had sought Allen’s services in negotiations for third baseman Todd Frazier, who ultimately wound up traded to the Chicago White Sox. Allen’s affordability and success over the last several years as a late inning reliever were key reasons for the interest. The Indians were not willing to part with Allen, likely sensing the same value he presents to their current roster.

The 27-year-old Allen signed a one-year tender for $4.15 million this offseason to avoid arbitration in his first year of eligibility. That figure will only rise in the coming years if he continues to produce at the level shown in his first 250 career appearances. He is a career 14-11 with 60 saves in 71 opportunities, posting a 2.64 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. He is, however, under team control through the completion of the 2018 season.

There is always risk in long-term extension, especially since Allen had Tommy John surgery in 2010. But he has been durable and reliable in his tenure with the Tribe and is underrated for his efforts on the mound as a big game closer. His value will only rise with another good season, and with as much money as the Indians have tied up in recent years on their younger talent, they need to get in front of the Allen contract early to prevent it from growing out of control and putting the pitcher out of their self-imposed price range.

“With relievers, it can be more challenging. You just don’t see those contracts out there quite as much in the industry,” Indians General Manager Mike Chernoff was quoted on on October 8th. “It’s a bit easier to project out a starting pitcher’s role moving forward or a position player’s role moving forward. That’s harder to do in the bullpen. I think that volatility [of the bullpen] often leads to the challenge of both sides meeting on what a potential value could be.”

The Indians, however, have made a habit in recent memory of locking up a player or two over the spring and Allen should certainly be on the top of that short list during this Goodyear camp.

Despite the Tribe’s bullpen as a whole coming off of a good season overall, much is unknown about what the staff will look like in 2016. While the hopes are that the starting rotation lives up to the early predictions and is a dominant force this season, this remaining mystery assortment of pitchers will have one task – to get the ball in Allen’s right hand with a lead in the ninth inning (and hopefully less frequently in the eighth inning).

Allen will be ready and has shown that he is the man for the job.

Photo: Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

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