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Indians 2013 in Review: Cody Allen (Is he the next closer?)

Cody Allen is a hard throwing righty and was one of the best arms in the Indians bullpen this year, and one of the best rookie relievers anywhere in baseball. He might even be the team's next closer.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Cody Allen

Right-handed relief pitcher

Age: 24

Acquired: 23rd round pick in 2011

Contract status: pre-arbitration (2014 will be year 2 of 4)

Cody Allen was a 23rd round pick in 2011. You may or may not know it, but 23rd rounders rarely go on to become successful MLB players. Over the rest of that season and the first four months of 2012 though, Allen destroyed every level of minor league ball the Indians sent him to, and so in late July last year he was called up, and while his walk numbers were scary, overall he managed to hold his own, posted a 3.72 ERA (3.68 FIP, 106 ERA+) in 29 innings.

Allen throws two pitches: A fastball that averaged 95.3 MPH this season (15th fastest among MLB relievers) and a curveball that rates as his most effective pitch.

You can look at his overall numbers from the last two years and see strong improvement in almost every category:

2012 23 CLE 3.72 27 0 29.0 15 27 0 106 1.517 9.0 0.6 4.7 8.4
2013 24 CLE 2.43 77 2 70.1 26 88 9 155 1.251 7.9 0.9 3.3 11.3

Provided by View Original Table

Terry Francona relied heavily upon Allen this year leading to 77 appearances, which not only led the team, but was alos the second-most in franchise history (Bob Howry holds the record with 79 games in 2005). Allen clearly gained more and more of his manager's trust, as after appearing in 8 games in April and 'only' 32 of the team's first 82 contests, Allen pitched in 45 of the final 80 games, including 16 of 27 in September. There was some talk that Allen was wearing down late in the season, but the numbers don't really point to such an effect, as his September ERA, WHIP, FIP, K%, and other metrics were all fairly close to his full-season figures (a relief pitcher's monthly splits all involve very small sample sizes, but there's nothing that jumps out as a red flag about Allen's final month, when he was given the ball even more frequently than ever).

One potential area of concern is that Allen was a pretty extreme fly ball pitcher. His fly-ball percentage and line-drive percentage were both among the twenty highest for relief pitchers, while his ground-ball percentage was 7th lowest. For a relief pitcher especially, such high fly-ball and line-drive rates can lead to trouble, because of course those are the balls that can become home runs. Allen allowed .90 home runs per 9 innings, which put him in the 'top' third (not where you want to be) of relief pitchers, second only to Chris Perez on the Indians.

Allen's strikeout rate is close to elite, his K/9 ranked 13th among relievers and his K% ranked 19th. If he can generate a few more ground balls and continue to make strides in his walk rate (which went from very bad in 2012 to just kind of bad in 2013), Allen can become one of the top bullpen arms in baseball. Chris Perez is likely to be non-tendered and Joe Smith is likely to depart as a free agent, which makes it even more important that Allen continue to develop into the kind of late-inning weapon most good teams have.

Allen is still only 24 years old, and while he's not the only option, he's likely to enter Spring Training as a strong contender to become the team's closer. He won't even be arbitration eligible for another 3 years, so between his ability and his affordability, Allen should be considered one of the team's most valuable assets entering 2014.