Zach McAllister was acquired from the Yankees in 2010 for outfielder Austin Kearns, a trade that will go down as one of the best moves in the Antonetti/Shapiro era.  Kearns spent half a season with the Yankees, batting .235 with 2 HR and 7 RBI in 36 games, while McAllister has established himself as a solid innings eater in the middle of the Indians rotation.  McAllister was surprisingly the most consistent pitcher in the Indians rotation last year, logging 125 innings  while posting a respectable 4.24 ERA.  His fastball hovers around 92 mph, but has been seen flirting with the mid to upper 90′s.  Over the past season, E-Z Mac has developed a plus curveball, one that is considered his best pitch by fangraphs.com. Below you can see how McAllister keeps his curveball down in the zone, showing command not often seen out of pitchers as young as him.

Zach McAllister curveball location

Zach McAllister Curveball Location

Despite the obvious positives from McAllister, his biggest problem has been the liability to the big inning and the inability to limit the damage when teams get runners in scoring position.  If McAllister overcomes this obstacle, he will become an elite pitcher in this rotation capable of winning 17-18 games.  The justification for such a claim is right in front of our eyes, albeit the small sample size of the the 2013 season.

Justin Masterson was a replacement level pitcher in 2012, posting an 0.3 WAR and allowing a horrendous .286 OBA with runners in scoring position.  As seen in the chart below, getting outs when in jams (RISP) has a large correlation to other major barometers of pitching and thus his team’s overall chance of staying in a ballgame.

Justin Masterson RISP ERA WAR
2011 .231 3.21 4.0
2012 .286 4.93 0.3
2013 .000 (0-8) 0.69 7.5

Just as Masterson did, McAllister has the opportunity  to become much better than replacement level.  So, to conclude the point, getting out of the big inning is key for a pitcher to take the next step to the elite level. If we look at McAllister’s stats from 2012, we see an inability to do just that.

McAllister with RISP

BA

OBP

OBP

OPS

SO/BB

GDP

BAbip

2012

.284

.333

.457

.790

2.45

3

.330

As we can see, McAllister struggled in clutch situations such as these mightily and became unnerved.  And while he wasn’t helped by a .330 average of balls in play, the .790 OPS he has surrendered while needing to record outs is alarming.  All of the statistics listed above are worse than McAllister’s overall season totals, a testament to what happens to E-Z Mac in such situations.

But although this is a glaring negative on one’s evaluation of McAllister, he has still managed to be an average starter with years ahead of of him for improvement.  It is not like he has never made drastic changes before in his game, because between 2011 and 2012 McAllister raised his first pitch strike percentage roughly 9 points, a huge jump to make in only one year.  One should also remember that McAllister is only 25 years old and is entering his second full season, so improvement is very probable.

In McAllister’s defense, Indians fans and media often fail to recognize is that we don’t need dominating stuff out of our starters, just a solid six innings of work without giving up the big inning.  McAllister lacks a dominating fastball or “out” pitch, but has developed an impressive repertoire  for a 25 year old. With that a solid six innings, we can hand the ball over to our devastating bullpen and lock up victories.  This path of success is much more manageable than expecting (and paying for) lights-out performances from our starters while hoping the bullpen doesn’t factor into the game.  This is one reason why I believe the Indians are in much better shape than the Tigers and Jays in regards to pitching. As seen today and during the opener, the studs of a rotation can be knocked around.  Even Justin Verlander gave up two home runs to Shelley Duncan of all hitters, in one game.

But getting back to the point, McAllister seems ready to take the leap to the next level of pitching.  The way the Indians are nurturing him and not setting the bar too high will only spur his future success.  But he must stay composed when he inevitably does allow base-runners  while not let allowing one run turn into allowing four or five.  In conclusion, I expect roughly 11-13 wins, a 4.00 ERA and 180 innings pitched from McAllister this season.  And if he can settle in with runners in scoring position, I could see him becoming a legitimate #2 starter for years to come.

Statistics and graphs available through ESPN Tru Media, baseball-reference.com, fangraphs.com, and texasleaguers.com.

1 Comment

  • Adam Hintz says:

    Good write up, even though I may disagree about McAllister’s future. Where you see a high AVG against with RISP as an opportunity for regression to the mean, I see a guy who still gets flustered when he’s working out of the stretch. I don’t know if McAllister will strike out enough batters to ascend to the upper half of the rotation, but I think he can definitely stick as a bottom of the rotation arm.