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Cleveland Indians: The case for and against Zach McAllister

(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Indians bullpen has been terrible in 2018. Zach McAllister has been downright dreadful. But his troubles have been a long time coming.

Let’s take a look at the Cleveland Indians bullpen thus far in the 2018 season:

While accurate, not quite what I meant. This is more what I’m looking for:

How about after their most recent collapse, this time against Detroit?

This now places the Indians bullpen at last in ERA (5.73, just one of three teams with a bullpen ERA over 5.00), 21st in opposing batting average (.256, a number much closer to last than to first), and they have the 14th most runs allowed while also being last in the number of innings pitched (74 runs in just 108.1 innings).

There is no other way to describe the relief pitching for the Indians this season as anything other than bad. Simply, bad.

There are a number of different arms to blame for the bullpen’s downfall. Nicky Goody? He’s been bad. Dan Otero? He’s been bad too. Tyler Olson? Well actually he’s been great! Nope, just kidding. Bad.

But above all, the man who shines the dullest among the bunch, the cream of the crop, is Zach McAllister.

Zach McAllister: The Defense

Before I lay into Zach, he deserves his due process.

I must fully admit I have always held a serious disdain for Zach McAllister and so I fully admit I hold a bias against him. That’s not to say I hate the person who is Zach McAllister. He seems like a nice guy who has done a number of great charity events and auctions to help the needy and less fortunate.

I’m just not a big fan of the baseball player who is Zach McAllister.

But, to his credit, he had a career year last year posting his best ERA (2.61), his lowest hits per nine innings average (7.7) and the lowest WHIP (1.194) of his career, even going back to his days as a starter.

Some other great numbers on McAllister: He batted .500 in 2014 and had perfect fielding percentages in both 2016 and 2017.

Good for you, Zach.

Zach McAllister: The Prosecution

I’d like to start the prosecution off with a bit of a factoid. Something you may not know about Zach McAllister is that his father, Steve McAllister, is a scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and a good one at that.

So good, in fact, that he is to be inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame. He has been in his current role as a scout for the Diamondbacks for nine years now, who, interestingly enough, also have the best bullpen in MLB right now, so clearly Steve McAllister can spot some talent.

It is a funny concept, though, to think that Zach McAllister is so bad at his job, that even his own father would probably deny him a pitching job.

But anyways, here is all that is wrong with McAllister.

He is a one-dimensional pitcher. As I said after Monday’s game, McAllister is a one trick pony in terms of his pitches. Over his entire career, 73.31% of his pitches have been four-seam fastballs. He’s only thrown one other pitch more than 10% of the time, that being his curveball.

And when he throws that fastball, he seems to struggle putting it in any other location than right down the middle.

If you were to poll every major league hitter right now, and ask them what the easiest pitch to hit for a home run is, most, if not all, of them would say the same thing: fastball right down the middle.

In his career, McAllister has given up an average of one home run per nine innings, which, to his credit, is right around the league average.

But this season he is up to 3.04 home runs per nine innings. He has given up five home runs in just 15.2 innings pitched.

His most recently allowed home run came against the Tigers’ young right fielder Niko Goodrum, who took McAllister deep for three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning Monday night.

Can you guess what pitch he threw and where he put it?

Of course, the usual suspect.

Fastball. Right down the middle.

This is what he does. He comes in for relief, throws a couple of meatballs across the plate for the opposing team to tee off on and he goes on his merry way.

Ask yourself this: When was the last time Zach McAllister came in to pitch with the Indians holding only a one-run lead?

To my knowledge I don’t remember it happening since the 2016 ALCS (more on that later). This can be in part due to past bullpen success, but it still says a lot. He can’t be trusted to hold on to such a small lead.

The only time McAllister sees playing time is usually when the Indians are winning big. It’s as if even Terry Francona knows McAllister is always good to give up a run or two per outing.

This theory holds more weight when considering McAllister’s postseason history. During the Tribe’s magical 2016 post-season run, he saw action in three different games, all of which make up his entire career postseason experience.

The first was game three of the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays. What was significant about this game was that it was the Trevor Bauer finger game.

As I’m sure you remember, Trevor Bauer sliced his finger open on his drone before the game and his status was up in question. It soon became apparent that Bauer would be unable to pitch and so he was pulled after just two-thirds of an inning.

The Indians then used six different relief pitchers, Including McAllister, to finish off the game, winning 4-2.

So how did McAllister get his first postseason inning of experience? That’s right, Trevor Bauer’s freak accident leading to a short start and forcing the skipper’s hand. Basically, they had no other option.

More from Away Back Gone

They even pitched Jeff Manship in that game, who has a career ERA of 4.82 and hasn’t pitched in the majors since that season. Interestingly enough, even Manship pitched better than McAllister in that game as he went four outs while giving up just one hit and zero runs.

What McAllister did in that game wasn’t terrible, but was expected and frankly he was pulled in time before he could do any more damage. He went one inning, giving up a triple to Ezequiel Carrera, who then eventually scored.

What was the situation McAllister entered into? A 2-1 Indians lead that he managed to blow in just one inning of work.

Not a great outing in one’s first career postseason appearance. But as I said before, McAllister saw action in three postseason games. So did he look better in his next outing? Of course not.

McAllister next saw time on the mound in Game 2 of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs won the game 5-1, so what did McAllister do to help the boys in blue?

He pitched terribly of course.

McAllister relieved Bauer, who gave up two runs in 3.2 innings of work. He got the last out of the  fourth inning, so nothing terrible at first. But then came the fifth inning and boy, did he really shine.

He managed to give up another triple, this time to Ben Zobrist (for those of you counting at home, that’s now two triples in two appearances), as well as two walks and two runs. He only lasted one out into the fifth inning.

McAllister’s next, and final, postseason appearance came in Game 6 of the World Series. It was actually good. One and one-third innings with no earned runs.

But when given more context, you can see why he was even called upon in the first place. He came in with the Tribe already down 7-1, in a game they went on to lose 9-3.

That outing slightly improved his postseason career numbers, but he still holds a 9.00 ERA, with four hits and three runs in just three career postseason innings.

That World Series Game 6 was his final postseason appearance to date. Remember how I said he had a career year last year, posting bests in ERA, H/9, and WHIP? It changed nothing in the eyes of Francona as his number was never called during the 2017 postseason.

If you’re still not convinced that even his own team doesn’t trust him to pitch, then look at his contract history.

Zach McAllister has never signed a contract with the Indians longer than one year. Whether through arbitration or just straightforward one-year deals, the Indians organization has never trusted him enough to bet the bank on him.

That’s crazy to think about. In a league so prone to throwing massive deals around left and right, Zach McAllister has never shown enough to get more than just a one-year deal.

Final Judgement

So what has this all been about? Why put Zach McAllister on trial like this? Simply put, to get across one point: Cleveland needs to get rid of him.

He came to Cleveland as a starter and failed at that. As a reliever, he has shown he isn’t much better. He doesn’t take up a ton of cap space (just $2.45 million), but he does take up a roster spot and frankly it’d be better to throw that $2.45 million at someone who actually helps win games for this team.

There is seemingly no reason as to why Cleveland has kept this guy around other than to have an extra arm in the pen. Even most of the fans dislike him.

I know this feeling well.

A boy can dream.

That sounds like the greatest prize of all.

Would never work. Can’t ask for so much in return.

The Indians have many glaring issues in terms of their bullpen, but by far the easiest and most prominent is Zach McAllister, and his departure from Cleveland is long overdue.

Next: Early look at the bullpen trade market

The bullpen as a whole needs to be fixed, and it starts with McAllister.