The Indians bullpen has been a little shaky so far in 2015, but Zach McAllister may be emerging as a new star at the back end of the pen.
In 15 appearances out of the bullpen this year, McAllister has posted a 1.71 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 21 innings of work.
This has been his first extended stint in the bullpen, but the recent stretch pushes his career totals out of the pen to a 2.12 ERA and 39 Ks in 34 innings.
It’s a small sample size, so it could easily be written off as a fluke. But based on McAllister’s repertoire, his success out of the bullpen shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
As a starter, McAllister has always had a reliever’s approach. He likes to challenge hitters high in the zone with his fastball, but doesn’t have the velocity or stamina to consistently blow hitters away as a stater.
Prior to the 2014 season I wrote about his approach with the fastball. And while he never took the next step as a starter, perhaps he’s coming into his own in the bullpen.
As a reliever, McAllister is able to add a little something extra to his fastball, which appears to make a significant difference.
Over the past two seasons, McAllister has averaged 92.5 mph with his fastball as a starter, but averages 94.7 when coming out of the bullpen.
And the difference shows up in the results.
As a starter, McAllister has allowed a .278 average on fastballs in the upper half of the zone, with a .437 slugging percentage. Out of the pen, however, both those numbers drop to .216 (due to no extra-base hits allowed).
The most noticeable difference in the details, predictably, seems to be in his ability to get hitters to swing and miss.
As a starter his fastballs in the upper half produced a whiff rate of just 17.5 percent the past two seasons. Out of the pen, that number rises to 33.1 percent.
If you ignore McAllister’s long-relief appearance earlier this season (the game Carrasco got hit in the face), his relief stats are even more impressive: 17 1/3 innings, 24 K, 5 BB, 1.56 ERA and a .212 opponents average – all while enduring a .333 opponents BABIP due to the Indians inept defense.
Due to the struggles of just about everyone not named Bryan Shaw in the Indians bullpen, McAllister has quickly risen up the ranks. He’s recorded a hold in two of his last four outings and entered into tie games in the 8th inning or later in the other two.
Hopefully the starting rotation remains healthy so we can continue to watch McAllister develop at the back end of the pen,