July 3, 2012; Cleveland, OH USA: Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Zach McAllister (34) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels in the game at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric P. Mull-USPRESSWIRE

2013 Indians Player Preview: Zach McAllister

As we count down the days until the start of the season, we’re profiling every player who will be on the Opening Day roster and how he could impact the team. Today, we continue making our way through the rotation with the Indians’ 2013 No. 4 starter: Zach McAllister.


Background: The New York Yankees picked McAllister out of high school in the third round of the 2006 MLB amateur draft—the same round in which Blake Wood, Joe Smith, and Jason Donald were taken. He had made it to Triple-A by 2010 when he came to Cleveland as the player to be named later in the deadline Austin Kearns deal. He made his debut with the Tribe in July 2011 and got called up to the majors for good just under a year later. Despite being arguably the team’s best pitcher last year, he wasn’t guaranteed a spot in the 2013 rotation until this week.

Last year: This isn’t saying much, but McAllister was the Indians’ best starting pitching in 2012, going 6-8 with a 4.24 ERA (92 ERA+) in 22 starts. Though he struggled with the long ball (1.4 HR/9), McAllister showed good control (2.7 BB/9) and proved himself to be the best strikeout starter Cleveland has had since CC Sabathia. The DIPS stats suggest that he was a bit better than he looked (SIERA had him at 3.93), but they don’t account for the most interesting thing about McAllister—more on that in a moment.

FanGraphs estimated McAllister’s worth last year at 1.3 wins above replacement. Baseball Prospectus pegged him at 0.6 WARP, while Baseball-Reference actually had him below replacement level (-0.5 WAR).

Key factor: Keeping cool. I didn’t know where to look this up so I ran the numbers myself, and it turns out Zach McAllister led all of baseball with 19 unearned runs in 2012 despite his taking a full half-season to earn a one-way trip to The Show. It’s an interesting bit of trivia, but it also fits in quite well with what most Clevelanders have probably observed about McAllister: when he’s on he’s on, but once something goes wrong he has trouble limiting the damage. Every pitcher deals with that to some extent, but him moreso than most.

If McAllister can learn not to panic when he gets in a jam—with a year of experience under his belt and a more positive manager in the clubhouse it’s quite possible that he’ll feel mentally stronger on the mound—he could be a legitimate No. 3 or even No. 2 starter. If not, he could be fighting for back-end rotation spots for the rest of his career.

2013 projections: Courtesy of FanGraphs. (*—estimated with the Simple WAR Calculator)

McAllister must have beaten ZiPS up in high school or something—I don’t know how else to explain that skepticism.

Best-case scenario: McAllister is a 25-year-old pitcher with a live arm and strikeout stuff, and he shows it off. He strikes out nearly a batter an inning while keeping the walks down and limiting the long ball to some extent. The vastly improved outfield defense is a huge boost for the flyball-inducing right-hander, and he has a palpable new resolve on the mound that helps him to escape tough situations in a way that he couldn’t in 2012. Look for double-digit wins, an ERA in the mid-3.00’s, and his being tapped to pitch Game 2 of the ALDS.

Worst-case scenario: McAllister doesn’t have a strong track record of missing bats in the minors, and it turns out 2012 was a fluke. As he regresses in what was once his greatest strength, he still can’t keep the ball in the park or shut the door in a tough spot. He’ll post an ERA in the mid-to-high 4.00’s while keeping the rotation spot warm for Carlos Carrasco or Trevor Bauer and become yet another in a long line of fringe starting pitchers to have come out of the Indians’ system.

What to expect: I know I’m on the optimistic end of the spectrum for McAllister, but I’d be surprised if he hasn’t emerged as one of the Indians’ two best starters by the end of the season. I’d put the over-under at a high-3.00’s ERA and 150 strikeouts.

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