Pitcher Zach McAllister may have found his new home in the Cleveland Indians bullpen after posting a 2.49 ERA in relief during 2015. He made his fair share of mistakes over the season, but statistically this was McAllister’s best year by a longshot.
It is no secret that McAllister is mostly a two-pitch pitcher. He has a curve and a cutter that he can throw, but his main strengths are his fastball that reaches 96-97 MPH and a changeup. Coming out of the bullpen in 60 of his 61 appearances in 2015 helped McAllister keep batters on their toes. Instead of going through the order several times over, and opposing teams figuring out his fastball as a result, McAllister always seemed to be on top of batters.
McAllister’s lone start on the season was his first and only. He began the season in an April 10 start against the Detroit Tigers where he was rocked for 13 hits and 5 runs in 4.0 innings. It was a textbook example of why Z-Mac needed to be in the bullpen: he was fine the first time through the tough Tigers lineup, but he was hammered the second time through.
When he did come out of the bullpen, McAllister’s role was primarily middle relief to eat up an inning, or eat up two innings if the starting pitcher struggled on the day. Other than his first relief appearance on April 14 against the Chicago White Sox, McAllister was never left in the game for more than two innings. Not to keep repeating myself, but again, this ensured that he would never face the lineup more than once. If you take out that one disastrous start, McAllister's year looks even better.
In managing McAllister’s appearances in this way, manager Terry Francona got a great bullpen arm and allowed the pitcher to have his best professional season. McAllister finished 2015 with a 3.00 ERA (which drops to 2.49 if you take out that disastrous first start), a 3.15 FIP, and a strikeout rate of 28.1%--a full 8.1% higher than his previous career-high. You could even argue that luck was not on McAllister’s side throughout the season, as he finished with an inflated .346 BABIP and left only 78.9% of runners on base.
McAllister was especially dominant in May when he struck out 19 batters and allowed only 3 runs over 13.2 innings. He finished the month with a 1.98 ERA and 2.40 FIP, with half of the balls hit in play against him staying on the ground.
If McAllister is going to continue in the bullpen (as Steamer projects, for what it’s worth), he will need to rein his walk rate to less than the 3.00 BB/9 he featured in 2015. Walking has always been somewhat of an issue for Zach, and if he can get it more under control, he could turn into a one of the go-to relief options for the Indians. There is also the possibility that he could be going the Carlos Carrasco route and see himself starting again soon, hopefully coming back better than before.