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Trend Spotting: McAllister's early success and long term outlook

Trend Spotting: McAllister's early success and long term outlook
June 1, 2013
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Zach McAllister has been one of the most important dominoes in a string that have tumbled to make the Indians a legitimate contender (by contender I mean 82-87 win team). I must confess, until the last few months I never thought Zach was anything more than an innings eating fourth starter.

Coming into this season I would have been happy to get that sort of production out of McAllister with the state of the rotation as it shipped north from Goodyear. However, just a quick look at McAllister’s 2012 production and a few other minor league statistics it becomes clear that an innings eating fourth starter is probably just his floor.

In 2012, his first full season in the big show McAllister averaged three earned runs over five and two/thirds per start. One cannot come much closer to averaging a quality start (three earned over six innings) than McAllister without hitting it right on the nose. Yes, quality starts are a flawed measurement of pitching but it does offer us a feel for a pitcher’s consistency and stability.

This season McAllister has continued in his ability to log innings and to keep the Tribe around, averaging six plus innings per start as well as not allowing more than three runs in any of his ten starts. Pigeon-holing starters is probably an altogether irrelevant and useless activity but in my opinion Zach McAllister’s career is going to hover somewhere between an above-average three starter and a mediocre two-starter. I must now share in the common pastime of saying “How did the Yankees give up Zach McAllister for a rental of Austin freakin’ Kearns?”

Of course this is what happens over the course of transactions, from time to time innocuous pieces become productive players, throw-ins become core members of a team built to compete over a reasonable window. This is because evaluating minor-league talent particularly those in your system becomes challenging as it is easy to over/under value guys because of familiarity.

2011 51% 30.2 0.403 17.2
2012 65% 40.3 0.304 125.1
2013 78% 41.7 0.287 61.1

(Obviously 2011 is pretty empty but added together with 2012, 2013 and you have close to a full season.)

There are two points which I wish to draw out of this chart specifically as it relates to McAllister’s 2013 success. The first is surrounding his strand rate or LOB%. Watching him last year Zach looked like a guy with above-average stuff who really struggled with runners on base/runners in scoring position and it seemed like he frequently collapsed whenever he had a bad break.

The positive at this point in the season is that his struggles with runners on base and his inability to limit damage have been rectified. One could argue that the change in LOB% is a statistical anomaly due to the size of the sample that will eventually correct itself. This may very well happen but I do not think it will.

Of course the reason I doubt regression has more to do with the eye test than any statistical argument. McAllister has looked like a bulldog on the mound, he has shown an incredible ability to bear down with runners in scoring position and he looks like a polar opposite to the guy we saw last season.  This past week’s start against the Reds was a great example of Zach’s intensity, he struggled to locate all evening and had runners on base throughout but he refused to break even though he was without his best stuff.

The second point is a quick note that I continue to reiterate about Zach McAllister: the outfield defense and BABIP. This being that McAllister tends towards being a fly ball pitcher; basically Zach is the greatest beneficiary of the Indians outfield defense that includes three centerfielders who all offer positive UZR’s to date at their positions. Also it is necessary to include that the unit did not just improve from average to above average but rather from horrid eyesore to an elite unit. Therefore the outfield defense, coupled with McAllister’s fly ball tendencies could be providing for a piece of the decrease in BABIP.

After his first season many expect a sophomore slump or at least occasional struggles as the league adapts and adjusts to Zach. However, it looks as if he is the one making adjustments to the league.

Pitch Type Usuage FB% CT% CB% CH%
2012 70.3 0 14.7 8.1
2013 71.3 4.2 16.1 4.8

The pitch that has really looked useful so far this season for McAllister has been the addition of the cutter. Zach has been able to start it off the plate and work it back on left-handed hitters with reasonable success. The curveball usage and overall effectiveness seems to have improved as well as his downward movement has increased (PITCHf/x).

Zach has really shown he can make changes and add or tweak pitches so that he can attack different types of hitters in different counts. The velocity on his fastball is stable and sits in the low nineties but when necessary McAllister has pushed it out to 95-96 MPH.

Pitch efficiency has been a big step forward as Zach has learned when to really dial it up when necessary but also how to save bullets. His willingness to save velocity and hold back on using certain pitches is Verlander-esque. (Verlander esque in only this single manner no other, just to make myself clear.)

In McAllister the Indians have really lucked out as they have a guy whose floor is as a four starter on a good team with the upside of a two. More importantly, the Tribe has five more years of control on a guy who continues to adjust and get better. What a coup!

A few things that may only interest me:

  • Corey Kluber’s FIP has outperformed his earned run average substantially in every one of his stints with the Tribe.
  • The Tribe pitching staff has a .293 BABIP against them which puts them at 15th in baseball.
  • The Tribe is either first or second in the American League in WAR at the following positions: C, 1B, SS, RF, CF (Fangraphs)

Interact with Michael by email at and on Twitter @MichaelHattery

User Comments

June 1, 2013 - 11:52 PM EDT
thank you mike and jim i apprecieate the research done
Mike Hattery
June 1, 2013 - 8:49 PM EDT
The Indians are currently tied for 9th in the American League in quality starts at 28 the number Jim gave. In 2012, the Rays, A's, and Detroit all tied for the American League lead at 90 for the full season. The Indians current rate projected over the full season would have them at just over 82 quality starts. Which would have been good for eighth in the A.L. last year (Pretty close to what league average will be this season).
June 1, 2013 - 8:19 PM EDT
I honestly believe that if Ubaldo continues to pitch well this year...he'll be back next year if the price is right...

there's still a long way to go though...
June 1, 2013 - 8:17 PM EDT
Masterson has 8
McAllister has 6
Jimenez has 5
Kluber has 4
Kazmir has 3
Myers has 1
Bauer has 1

That's 28 quality starts, and a whole bunch more that were close either in innings...or in earned runs...

Not sure the average...but I have to believe that 28 is a solid number...
June 1, 2013 - 7:15 PM EDT
seperate and aside from the previous blog can anyone give me an accurate amount of quality starts (6 innings 3 or less ER) that the tribe has after the 55 games which is 1/3rd of a season?. In addition in the american league what is the team league average over 162 game season?
June 1, 2013 - 6:23 PM EDT
it appears that ubaldo at 8.3 million isnt likely now that he has seemingly turned it around resembling the 2010 much more so that the 2011-2012 ubaldo. His agent will invaribly want twice the money on the open market and if i was his agent and the last month is the real ubaldo i spose i would too. however the indians seem to have shown patience with him and maybe it would be in his best interest to take the mutual option with maybe a million dollar signing bonus so he can see if he can parlay 2013-2014 into huge multi year mega million dollar contract. That would buy us one more year to get Salazar or cody anderson and see if josh tomlin in 2011 is the real josh tomlin. The options are there with or without ubaldo. Compared to the tigers who you have to use as a yardstick in this division our less than 30 million dollar rotation is equivelent to their 75 million dollar rotation. Zac Mac and masty and carrasco and ubaldo and kazmir if we can sign him is pretty good for the money. Not sure what order after masty they fit and it doesnt matter. I just got a hunch that detroit isnt gonna shake the tribe anytime soon and it could come to our one on one's in september. Virtually for half the payroll we are competitve with them shows how efficient this club has become. Detroit will have a payroll exceeding 150 million in 2014. and we will undoubtedly be under 100 million total. As for zac mac we control him for a long time. as we do with carlos and salazar and i personally am enjoying this version of the tribe. the loss of myers wont be difficult smitty leaving and reynolds leaving will be difficult maybe we can get them to do an arbitration agreement for a single year extension. albers myers are excess and use their money for other pitchers. as for the 14 players on the roster i kind of wouldnt mind just keepting the same guys. and going to battle with them.
Ron Vollmar
June 1, 2013 - 1:01 PM EDT
It helps when the Cleveland Indians get lucky.

McAllister looks like a nice #3 starter as he continues to develop. There are many members who know the length of service he is tied to the Indians, prior to his availability to free agency.

He would be a nice young starter to extend in a few years, depending upon the length of service he has available.

If Masterson was inked as the future ace, which he is now. Bauer could be a solid #2. Carrasco could compete as a future #3 or #4 if he can learn to control his temper. I hope his temper is just immaturity.

The search for a fifth starter is open to discussion.

The idea that each teams needs 8+ starters throughout the full baseball season. It would be nice to know that their are young quality arms at the top of the rotation in the near future.

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