For the fifth time in the 2016 playoffs on Wednesday, Cody Allen recorded the final out for the Cleveland Indians. On Wednesday, he recorded the biggest out for the city since Jose Mesa struck out Roberto Alomar to beat the Baltimore Orioles and advance to the 1997 World Series. A foul pop off the bat of Toronto Blue Jays’ shortstop Troy Tulowitzki sent the Indians to their first World Series in 19 years. The final out was one of 23 outs that Allen has recorded so far these playoffs. In his seven and two-thirds innings pitched, Allen has still not allowed the opposing team to cross home plate.
While Allen has flashed almost eight innings of shut out baseball, that has not stopped fans from chiming in with their distaste for the Cleveland closer. All it takes is a simple Twitter search for “Cody Allen” and you will see a flood of “Cody Allen sucks” and “why is Cody Allen the closer” tweets. You’re entitled to your opinion, but if you truly believe Cody Allen sucks, well the numbers—and common sense—say otherwise.
Allen struggled to start this year, there’s no denying that. During the month of April, Allen made 11 appearances and put up a hitter-friendly 6.97 ERA. Those numbers do suck. However, between April 29 and June 30, Allen saw his ERA fall from the 6.97 mentioned above down to 3.12. And while a 3.12 ERA is not ideal for a guy whose supposed to be your best pitcher, the 1.48 ERA he recorded between April 29 and June 30 is near elite levels. What’s even better for Tribe fans and Allen himself, that was just the beginning of his dominance.
Perhaps it was the freedom in the air, or the energizing feeling one gets from watching the annual Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, but whatever it was, July 4 was the day Cody Allen began to own the opposition.
From Independence Day through the final out of Wednesday’s ALCS, Cody Allen’s ERA is 1.54 in 41 innings of work. That number is even inflated by Allen’s one-third of an inning against the Chicago White Sox on August 17 where he came into close the game out for the Indians, but managed to record just one out while giving up five runs (which included a bubble-blowing grand slam to Adam Eaton). If we exclude that outing and focus on Allen’s other 40.2 innings, his ERA is a microscopic .44. Let that sink in.
Allen’s 41 innings have come across 39 appearances, he has allowed a run in just three of those appearances. In 36 of Allen’s 39 appearances, the scoreboard remained the same when he exited as when he entered.
While Allen always seems to get the job done, one of his biggest knocks from fans is that he always makes the ninth inning “scary.” Again, statistics say otherwise.
Allen finished 2016 with a 1.00 WHIP. This means he allowed just one base runner per inning on average. The only Indians to have a better WHIP than Allen were Dan Otero, and super-human Andrew Miller, who is arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball.1 Following the All-Star break, when Allen flipped the figurative switch and began a run of unbelievable pitching, Allen’s WHIP was just .78, which was good enough for fifth in the entire American League. A WHIP of .78 is lower than what Zach Britton put up following the All-Star break, which was .85. Britton was widely regarded as the best relief pitcher in baseball this year, is expected to receive Cy Young votes, yet Cody Allen allowed fewer base runners than him.
Cody Allen doesn’t make games scary; the fans make them scary. The fans are the ones who illogically value the last three outs more than the first three outs. The fans are the one who illogically believe that the last three outs are the hardest to get because your dad told you that once. When Allen allows a base runner in the ninth, there’s a collective “here we go again” groan amongst Clevelander’s. But, if Corey Kluber allows a base runner in the first, second, third, etc… innings, you don’t worry, because you know Kluber is a great pitcher, and chances are that runner is not going to score.
Cody Allen gets the job done, and he gets it done better than just about anyone in the game. Allen too often gets compared to Andrew Miller, and that’s just not fair. You wouldn’t say Kyrie Irving sucks just because he’s not as good as LeBron James, would you? Just because Allen isn’t a 6-7 robot with a slider that breaks harder than the shoulder of a Browns quarterback, doesn’t mean he isn’t great. Even with his disastrous month of April, Allen was able to post a 2.1 WAR, which was good for tenth in the American League among relief pitchers.
Now, a lot of fans problem with Allen isn’t that they think he sucks, it’s that they think Andrew Miller should be the closer. If Terry Francona has taught us anything, however, it is that the closer role is obselete. Team’s closers are generally their best pitcher, and they save him for the ninth because of the fallacy that the last three outs are the hardest to get. There is no actual data, however, that says leverage is higher in the ninth than in the fifth inning. The ninth inning is more tense for us watching at home, but for the guy on the mound, it’s just another inning. If anything, you should be thankful that Andrew Miller isn’t the closer. Would you rather Miller pitching to the seven, eight, and nine hitters in the ninth inning, or would you rather him face the top of the line up in the seventh? I’ll take my best guy against theirs, thank you.
If Cody Allen makes you so uneasy that you can’t stand to watch him pitch with the bases empty in the ninth, would it really be good for your heart to see him pitch against the heart of a team’s order in the sixth when there are runners on base? I mean, if Allen was put in that situation, he’d probably get out of it, even if not in the same manner as Miller.
Maybe Indians fans are used to watching Joe Borowski and Chris Perez. Maybe the fans just can’t get the month of April out of their head. Maybe the sight of Adam Eaton blowing a bubble and hitting a grand slam is so stained on some fans minds, that they can’t even pull out another memory of a Cody Allen outing this year. I do not know what it is. But I do know that Cody Allen is one of the best relief pitchers in baseball.
- If we’re using Miller as a benchmark for Allen, or any relievers from here out, we’re going to be extremely underwhelmed. [↩]