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2013 Indians Player Preview: Cody Allen

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 our look at the bullpen with the newest addition to the Indians’ 2013 bullpen: Cody Allen.

Background: The Cleveland Indians took Allen out of High Point University in the 23rd round of the 2011 MLB amateur draft. He breezed through the minor leagues and made his MLB debut in July 2012—barely a year after he was drafted. Last week the Tribe announced that Allen had earned a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Last year: Allen opened the season in High-A Carolina, and it took him only three weeks to work his way up to Triple-A Columbus; he threw 43.1 innings with a 1.87 ERA, a 0.79 WHIP, and an 11.0 K/9 between the three highest levels of the Tribe system. After getting called up to Cleveland he threw 29 innings with a 3.76 ERA (106 ERA+) and 1.51 WHIP in 27 appearances out of the bullpen. He struck out nearly a batter an inning, but he also struggled with his control to the tune of a 4.7 BB/9. The DIPS stats varied in their assessments of Allen’s true-talent level, with FIP putting him at 3.68 and xFIP going as high as 4.35.

FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Prospectus all valued Allen’s performance between 0.1 and 0.3 wins above replacement.

Key factor: Controlling the walks. Like the inverse of Lonnie Chisenhall, Allen went from incredibly stingy with free passes in the minors to struggling to avoid them in the majors—he walked 15 batters in 29 MLB innings after giving up only 23 in 98 MiLB frames. It was a small sample size and even if he doesn’t improve with experience he still gets enough strikeouts to be an effective pitcher, but controlling the zone could be the difference between Allen being a solid middle-relief guy and a legitimate high-leverage setup man.

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

Interesting that the differences in the ERA projections are larger than the differences in the FIP projections.

Best-case scenario: Allen gets the walks under control and goes to town. He strikes out more than a batter an inning, gets his K/BB ratio under 3.0, and proves himself mentally strong enough to handle high-pressure, late-inning situations. In short, he emerges as a great setup man who can take Vinnie Pestano‘s place in the eighth inning after Chris Perez is gone.

Worst-case scenario: Something really has changed and Allen can’t keep his control—well, under control. He struggles to get MLB hitters out and ends up heavily prone to the big inning. He finds himself back in Columbus within a few weeks and fails to latch back on with the parent club for more than a few games at a time throughout the 2013 season.

What to expect: As Katrina has already explored in greater detail, Allen is a tremendously talented young pitcher with the stuff to be an elite high-leverage reliever. Bet on the Oliver projection plus more strikeouts, but don’t be surprised if he has a breakout year in 2013.

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