There’s little reason to have a closer-in-waiting unless they’re going to be given the opportunity at some point, and Cody Allen‘s chance is now staring him right in the face as 2014 approaches.
That is, if the Cleveland Indians are willing to give it to him anyway. After recently signing John Axford to bolster their Chris Perez-less bullpen, the ninth-inning role for the Tribe is up in the air at this point as the team seems intent on keeping their options open at least for now.
Not that there are a whole lot of reasons to, really. The Indians have had a track record of not going with the best available option in the ninth (pre-2013 Vinnie Pestano), but Perez’s departure is as good of an opportunity to change that trend, and there was simply no better reliever in the Bullpen Mafia in 2013 than Allen.
Leading the team with an 1.0 fWAR season that included the most appearances made (77), a 2.43 ERA that was ranked just behind Joe Smith among regulars and a stellar 11.26 K/9, the young right-hander is the prototypical closer: he throws hard (95.3 mph average fastball, tops in the bullpen among regulars), doesn’t let walks hurt him too much (3.33 BB/9) and strikes guys out.
Yes, he was slightly better against lefties, but his numbers against right-handers are nothing to scoff at either. And as for whether he’s able to handle the pressure? Well:
Bases empty: .234 BAA
Men on Base: .219
That should give you a glimpse about how he performed in the clutch, yes?
Even if Pestano ends up coming back healthy and in form, it’d be a little difficult to make a case for him being in the mix for the closer job other than the track record factor. Then again, considering that relievers work on small sample sizes and are prone to go through significant fluctuations in performance, maybe going with the best arm at the time is a better idea.
And as for Bryan Shaw? His middling numbers against lefties (6.42 K/9, .250 BAA) suggest that his stuff just isn’t quite suited for the job.
Meanwhile, there’s the newcomer Axford, who comes with a combination of both stuff and track record, despite posting an abysmal -0.5 fWAR campaign in 2013. He’s probably got the inside track at this point given what manager Terry Francona told Jordan Bastian of MLB.com about wanting to keep Allen in a setup role, which might strike some as odd given Axford’s season.
Then again, he was nearly a 2.0 fWAR reliever in both 2010 and 2011, and the right-hander’s 10.1 inning stint with the St. Louis Cardinals (1.74 ERA, 9.58 K/9) might have the Indians thinking a return to form is possible. How that plan will pan out remains to be seen, though it’s worth pointing out the Axford did post a .275 BAA and 1.35 WHIP with the Redbirds, posting only two spotless outings out of 13.
So the real question for the Indians going into 2014 is, why not Allen?