Cleveland Indians: Should Zach McAllister Return to the Rotation?


Zach McAllister Belongs in the Bullpen

If the Cleveland Indians are even remotely considering Zach McAllister as a part of the 2016 rotation, they should stop right now. McAllister had arguably the best season of his career in 2015, posting a 3.00 ERA out of the bullpen. The big right-hander was the starter for the 2015 home opener, taking the mound against the Detroit Tigers in April. He flopped miserably, allowing 13 hits and five runs in four innings as Cleveland was eviscerated by the Tigers.

After that one rough outing, McAllister was taken out of the rotation and put in the bullpen – a move that no pitcher ever likes, but one that seemed to be the most beneficial to both him and the team. In 2015, he pitched 69 total innings, with 65 of them coming in relief appearances. He finished the year with 84 strikeouts and a 3.00 ERA, which doesn’t even take into account the fact that 5 of his 23 earned runs came during that lone start in April. Imagine how good his numbers would have been had they not tried to push him into a starting role that first game.

McAllister’s biggest change was in the amount of strikeouts he had this season. Previously, his career high was 20.3 percent, and last year, he punched out just 19.6 percent of batters. In 2015, he struck out 28.1 percent. This is largely because the move to the bullpen enable him to throw his fastball at a higher velocity, which lead to a higher swinging strike rate – up from 13.5 percent last year to 18.5 percent in 2015. In fact, batters made contact with just 74.6 percent of his pitches, when previously that number had never been below 80 percent.

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Being a full-time reliever gave McAllister the ability to throw as hard as he could, without worrying about whether he’d be able to go the requisite six innings that quality starters are typically able to last. In addition to this freedom from pitch counts, relief work also changed the way McAllister approached each at-bat, because he never had to worry about facing the same batter twice. He had never truly had an outstanding breaking pitch that he could throw for strikes, so not having to fool hitters as much made a big difference in his results.

McAllister also did much better at holding runners on base. In previous full seasons, he had never had a stolen base success rate below 75 percent. In 2015, only 57 percent of attempts were successful.

Out of the bullpen, McAllister is extremely valuable to the Tribe. If they were ever in a bind and needed a long man, he’s capable of doing it, but he’s also talented enough to step up into a later-inning role, perhaps in the seventh or eighth inning. McAllister is available for arbitration this winter, but he only made $520,400 in 2015, so he should be well-within the Tribe’s arbitration price range for next year. He won’t be a free agent until 2019, and as long as he stays in the bullpen rather than trying to compete for the rotation again, McAllister will be a valuable asset to the Tribe in 2016 and beyond.

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