Indians reliever Zach McAllister got a big vote of confidence from the Cleveland organization when the arbitration-eligible right-hander was one of eight players tendered a contract by the club in advance of the deadline earlier in December.
Having just completed his sixth big league season in an Indians uniform, McAllister is now fully settled into his role as a reliever after spending most of his first four years in the Majors in the starting rotation. While his first full season in the bullpen yielded some promising results, including a surprisingly high strikeout rate, some of those numbers dropped back down to more expected results this past season.
McAllister started the season with some curious numbers. He posted a 0.93 ERA in eleven outings in April, but he walked five in nine and two-thirds innings. As he got into May, he found the strike zone better, striking out 12 and walking just three in eight innings of ten games, but he also was tagged for 12 hits and seven runs.
The issues piled on for McAllister despite a good June (five strikeouts and two walks with five hits allowed in six and two-thirds innings). He appeared in just six games, with nine days between his final two outings of the month, but after three outings in July and a disastrous seven runs allowed in an inning and one-third, he landed on the disabled list for the first time since May of 2014 while dealing with right hip discomfort.
He was activated on July 29 and put together a solid two months to close out the season, allowing single runs in four of his final 23 games (25 2/3 innings) for a 1.40 ERA. He allowed some foot traffic on the bases, giving up 25 hits and eight walks in that span, but just two of the hits left the yard. He also averaged a hair above a strikeout per inning with 26 in that stretch.
The good results did not translate to the postseason, where he allowed a run on one hit in one inning of the ALCS against Toronto and two more runs on three hits with a walk and two strikeouts in two innings of two games against Chicago in the World Series.
McAllister’s final regular season numbers included a 3-2 record, a 3.44 ERA, and a 1.45 WHIP. After striking out 84 batters and walking 23 in 69 innings over 61 games in 2015, he struck out 54 and walked the same 23 in 52 1/3 innings in 53 games in 2016.
McAllister’s pitch selection changed from 2015 to 2016, which may have factored in to some of the changes that showed up in his stat sheet. During the 2015 season, he relied heavily on the four-seam and two-seam fastballs, mixed in the cutter or curve, and would occasionally use a slider. His four-seam remained his primary weapon in 2016, but the curve became his second-most used pitch as he fired his two-seamer 116 fewer times (according to fangraphs.com).
His four-seam fastball use climbed from 63.1% to 69.7% from 2015 to 2016. Meanwhile, he threw nearly half as many two-seamers (16.2% in 2015 to 8.6% in 2016). His curveball usage felt a slight uptick of just over 2% more use while his cutter was used nearly 2% less frequently than the season before.
McAllister was able to rely on his four-seamer for all of his strikeouts while holding opposing hitters to a .253 average with it, but all 21 walks issued and all six home runs allowed by him on the year came off of those heaters. He saw a decrease in contact off of the pitch by opposing hitters, who increased their tendency to line the pitch instead of put it on the ground. He had a career-best effort in swinging strikes on his fastball at 10.4% and he got strikes on two-thirds of the fastballs that he threw. His two-seamer was used the fewest times by him in a single season since his rookie season in 2011.
Hitters also found more success against his curveball than the previous year, boasting a .375 average in limited action against it after hitting .267 off of the pitch the previous season. Earlier in his career, McAllister had had success with the curveball, but struggled significantly when utilizing his slider. Hitters made contact with 90% of the curveballs that they saw in the strike zone. He missed the zone more than he found it with both his slider and changeup when he mixed the pitches into his arsenal.
In his eleventh professional season after being drafted in the third round by the New York Yankees in 2006, McAllister made $1.3 million in his first season of arbitration last winter. The usually reliable projected arbitration salary numbers at MLBTradeRumors.com put him in line to earn in the ball park of $1.7 million for next season.
McAllister, who turned 29 earlier in December, appears primed to return to the middle of the Tribe’s bullpen mix, where he can provide manager Terry Francona with multiple innings of relief work, as he did in a dozen different relief appearances this past season, or with the occasional later inning matchup. With the latter innings under control with Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen in tow, McAllister gives Francona an experienced and durable right-handed arm, even if Francona’s tendency was to utilize him in low leverage situations. McAllister can provide a bridge from a short starting outing from one of his teammates to the dangerous back end of the bullpen, and could even jump into the later innings on occasion when the primary relief figures there have seen the mound too much.
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