If you’ve read anything about the Tribe’s postseason run, you’ve probably read about the absolute dominance of relief pitcher Andrew Miller. You’ve read about how many batters he strikes out (60% of total batters faced) and how silly he’s made them all look (very). You’ve probably also read about how manager Terry Francona is embracing the new era of bullpen usage by not limiting Miller to a specific role. The left-hander has entered games in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, always coming on to face the opponent’s toughest hitters.
Understandably, Miller has been a very important part of why the Indians have not yet lost in October. There’s no denying that without him, it’s questionable whether the team would have even beat Boston in the ALDS, let alone be standing a mere one win away from the World Series. Yet, there’s another man in the Tribe’s bullpen who deserves some credit too.
That man’s name is Cody Allen.
Yes, the same Allen who got the final out in the ALDS and when the Tribe clinched the division. Though not as dominant as Miller, he has still been able to come in and shut the door for the Tribe. Whenever Francona has called upon him to close a game out, he has delivered. In six and two-thirds innings so far in the playoffs, the Tribe’s closer has given up zero runs. Ten of the 27 batters to face him have been retired via strikeout and only seven have reached base.
Like Miller, he has succeeded in an expanded role in higher pressure situations. In both of his appearances in the ALDS, he threw 40 pitches, recording a five-out save in one and a four-out save in the other. Only twice in his career has Allen thrown so many pitches, with both times occurring way back in 2013. As for the added pressure, Allen’s average leverage index has been 2.33 so far in the postseason according to Baseball Reference. A leverage index of 1.0 is average and anything above 2.0 is considered high leverage. Allen has been used when the game was on the line, and he finished the job for the Tribe.
Using his fastball/knuckle-curve combo, Allen has been nearly unhittable. Right-handed hitters have managed a meager one hit in 14 at bats versus the closer. Against righties, he throws the fastball away and out of the zone, going up and away when he needs to get a strikeout. The curve is used almost exclusively down and away and generates a swing and a miss almost half the time it hits the target.
Lefties are doing a little better, getting three hits in ten at-bats. However, they do have the same number of strikeouts (five) as their right-handed teammates. Allen tries to throw the ball in the exact same spots. The fastballs are now up and in while the curveball goes down and in. Allen’s swing and miss rate on curves is about the same against southpaws, close to 50%.
Of course, Allen had his fair share of trouble early in the post-season, bringing out Tribe fans’ worst fears. In Game 1 against Boston, he surrendered two hits (one of them was a double) and had to work out of danger in both innings of work. Game 3 wasn’t any better. He didn’t even throw half of his pitches for strikes, as he walked two and gave up two more hits. He even allowed an inherited runner to score.
Hopefully, that was just nerves getting the best of Allen. In his three outings since, he’s been close to perfect, recording five strikeouts and average only 17 pitches per appearance. And he escaped the messes he pitched himself into, another good sign for those worried about the overworked closer.
Does the threat of a meltdown still exist? Sure it does, just like with any reliever. But because of the way both Allen and Miller have pitched in the postseason, the Tribe are in a position where they can afford a loss.
While Miller has received the bulk of the media attention because of his ridiculously high strikeout total, it’s easy to forget that Allen has performed very well too. The guy who will probably be called upon to make the final out should the Tribe clinch against Toronto deserves some credit.
Photo: AP Photo/Matt Slocum