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Zach McAllister is a better pitcher than most fans seem to think

Zach McAllister started strong, then struggled, then became an afterthought, leading many to forget about his recent and fairly longstanding solidity.

Jason O. Watson

Every day you'll find a look back at the 2014 season for one of the Indians or their key prospects, as we sort out what happened and what it means for the franchise going forward.

Zach McAllister

  • Position: Right-handed pitcher
  • Age: 26
  • Acquired: Trade with the Yankees (August 20, 2010)
  • Contract status: 2015 is final year of pre-arbitration (~$500,000)

McAllister was something very close to a league average starter in 2012 and 2013. Not anything particularly exciting, but very capable of holding the #4 or 5 spot in a Major League rotation. He came out of the gate this season pitching much better than that. Through five starts he had a 3.14 ERA, with a lower walk rate than in previous years and not a single home run allowed. His fastball was averaging 93.5 MPH, after averaging 91.6 over the previous two years. On April 30 McAllister was put in to start the game on only three days' rest. He gave up his first home run of the year, walked four, and didn't survive the 5th inning.

It's impossible to know what effect that had on him. In his next start after that game, he was great, going 6.2 shutout innings. After that though, his strikeouts plummeted and he had three really bad outings in a row. At that point he was placed on the disabled list with what was termed a lower back strain. He didn't pitch for a couple weeks, and when he did come back (after a rehab start in Single-A), it was with Triple-A Columbus.

Over the span of a month McAllister made six starts for the Clippers, posting a 2.23 ERA, with very strong peripherals (strikeout and walk rate, etc.). In mid July he was called back up. He made two pretty good starts, than two that weren't so good, and at the end of the month he was sent back down. During August he made another five starts for Columbus, with a 1.93 ERA and (again) very good peripherals.

When rosters expanded in September McAllister was brought back up, and after a pair of long relief appearances he was given the starting nod on September 15th. He struck out 6 in 6 innings while issuing no free passes and allowing no home runs, but with other starters all doing well at that point, he was moved back to the bullpen. He pitched another 7.2 innings during the final couple weeks of the season, with 9 strikeouts, 0 walks, and 0 runs allowed.

Notably, when his effectiveness temporarily left him, it took a little of the newfound velocity with it, but most of it remained, and he was 1.9 MPH faster than in 2013.

2014 grade: C-


2015 Outlook

McAllister's ERA with the Indians this year was an ugly 5.23, far worse than any of the five guys currently expected to form next season's starting rotation. On the other hand, because of his solid strikeout, walk, and home run rates, his FIP was 3.45, which is better than Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, or T.J. House posted. I don't suggest using ERA or FIP all on their on to determine which pitcher is better than another, and if you inelegantly just average the two out, McAllister falls back behind all of the other guys, but I think many fans have far too short a memory, and have completely lost sight of McAllister's potential to help the team.

McAllister is out of options, which gives the Indians three possible moves:

A) Let him go. This would be a major mistake, so far as I'm concerned. Believing he can't be a capable 4th or 5th starter is placing far too much emphasis on a bad month.

B) Put him in the bullpen. He did well in that role at the end of the year, and he could serve as on-hand insurance for an injury or ineffectiveness from one of the other five guys.

C) Put him back in the rotation, with T.J. House in Triple-A. If they want all six of the guys starting when the season begins, this would be the way to do it. In this scenario House is the guy set to join the rotation if someone else struggles or gets hurt.

House really impressed me this year, and it seems like he probably belongs in the rotation come April, so I tend to lean towards option B. I believe McAllister is a much better 6th option than most fans (or most LGT readers anyway) seem to think.