Mailbag: Zach McAllister

Andrew Bailey is a wildcard for the 2015 bullpen, but not someone the Yankees will count on
Yankees going with youth in all the right places in 2015
(Jason O. Watson/Getty)
(Jason O. Watson/Getty)

Travis asks: Zach McAllister throws hard and did well in a short stint in relief with Cleveland. If they don’t believe in him anymore, could the Yankees take a shot at hoping he is a failed starter who can be a weapon out of the bullpen?

The 27-year-old McAllister was New York’s third round pick in their tremendously productive 2006 draft class, though they traded him to the Indians as the player to be named later for Austin Kearns at the 2010 deadline. McAllister has been an up-and-down arm with the Tribe the last four years, pitching to a 4.38 ERA (3.93 FIP) in 363.1 big league innings, almost all as a starter.

McAllister really struggled in the rotation this year, posting a 5.67 ERA (3.80 FIP) with mediocre strikeout (7.40 K/9 and 18.5 K%) and walk (3.21 BB/9 and 8.0 BB%) rates. Cleveland stuck him in the bullpen late in the season and he was much better, pitching to a 2.77 ERA (1.44 FIP) with excellent strikeout (9.69 K/9 and 26.9 K%) and walk (1.38 BB/9 and 3.9 BB%) numbers in 13 innings, so small sample alert. His ground ball rate (42.1% overall) was about the same in both roles.

I don’t remember where I saw it, but a few years ago I read an article detailing traits that helped identify middling starters who would be good bullpen candidates. I don’t remember all of the traits, but I do remember one of them was effectiveness early in starts — the first time through the order, etc. — before a big drop off later on. Here’s how McAllister has done each time through the order and within his first 25 pitches of a start throughout his career (via Baseball Reference):

Split PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip OPS+
1st PA in G, as SP 585 42 117 28 3 11 39 127 3.26 .217 .271 .341 .612 .262 62
2nd PA in G, as SP 562 85 148 42 2 10 50 93 1.86 .295 .357 .447 .804 .341 113
3rd PA in G, as SP 374 64 107 26 1 18 30 64 2.13 .316 .374 .558 .932 .344 144
4th+ PA in G, as SP 10 1 4 0 0 1 1 1 1.00 .444 .500 .778 1.278 .429 233
Split PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip OPS+
Pitch 1-25 423 28 88 21 3 7 18 93 5.17 .220 .255 .340 .595 .267 57
Pitch 26-50 428 52 98 27 0 7 46 81 1.76 .260 .338 .387 .725 .312 93
Pitch 51-75 389 60 109 26 3 8 33 60 1.82 .314 .371 .476 .847 .354 124
Pitch 76-100 298 52 83 19 0 17 20 54 2.70 .303 .356 .558 .914 .324 138
Pitch 101+ 45 2 11 4 0 1 5 11 2.20 .275 .356 .450 .806 .357 113

Those are some pretty significant splits, no? McAllister has been considerably better the first time through the order and within his first 25 pitches throughout his career. It’s a big, big drop off the second time through the lineup and after pitch 25. That suggests he might be best used as a short reliever who doesn’t have to turn the lineup over multiple times.

Furthermore, while McAllister does throw four pitches, he is very fastball heavy. He threw 64.5% four-seam fastballs back in 2011, and that has gradually increased to 69.7% in 2012, 73.1% in 2013, and 73.6% in 2014. McAllister’s thrown his changeup, cutter, and slider roughly 8-10% of the time each over the years. Unsurprisingly, his velocity ticked up noticeably in relief this past September (via Brooks Baseball):

Zach McAllister velocity

During his 13 innings in relief, McAllister scrapped his changeup and cutter and became a fastball-slider pitcher. The swing-and-miss rates for his fastball and slider went from ~8% and ~10% as a starter to ~11% and ~27% as a reliever, respectively. That’s a really big jump. But, of course, we are talking about only 13 innings, so we have to take it with a grain of salt. The velocity uptick definitely makes sense though, and there’s a pretty strong correlation between velocity and whiffs.

McAllister hasn’t showed a platoon split in the big leagues — .332 wOBA and 3.96 FIP against lefties, .329 wOBA and 3.90 FIP against righties — so he’s not someone who has to be hidden against lefties. (I’m pretty sure one of the traits that suggested a starter would be better off in the bullpen was a big platoon split.) If he were to go straight fastball-slider as a reliever, his platoon split might grow because sliders are typically reserved for same-side hitters. It’s not guaranteed to happen, but it could.

The increased effectiveness early in outings, the uptick in velocity, and his performance as a reliever in September (albeit in a small sample) all suggest McAllister would be much better off in the bullpen going forward. It would be better for him — above-average reliever pays better than disposable back-end starter, or at least it pays comparably with more job security — and better for his team as well. Now here’s a really fun comparison:

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
Wade Davis as a SP
4.57 4.49 16.1 8.5 38.2 9.7
McAllister as a SP 4.44 4.03 18.6 7.8 39.6 9.1

Those two pitchers are really similar! Davis moved into the bullpen and became an absolute monster, basically a Dellin Betances who doesn’t give up homers. (Davis allowed zero homers in 2014.) That little table doesn’t mean McAllister will turn into an otherworldly reliever because Davis did, I just thought it was interesting. Some guys are just better off in the bullpen like Davis and Betances. McAllister might be one of those guys.

Based on all of this, I really like the idea of the Yankees bringing McAllister back and sticking him in relief. He is out of minor league options but New York does have two open bullpen spots, so there’s room on the roster for him. McAllister will be in his final pre-arbitration year in 2015, so he’ll be cheap, and he’ll remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2018. Obviously the team knows him too, so there’s some familiarity there.

The Indians have plenty of starters — McAllister is eighth on their rotation depth chart — so he might be considered expendable. I’m not quite sure what it would take to acquire him, but Ross Detwiler cost the Rangers two okay prospects a few weeks ago, guys in the 20-30 range on a prospect list. It’s not a perfect comparison — Detwiler’s a year away from free agency and was a former top prospect (sixth overall in 2007) — but it’s what we have. I’m very intrigued by McAllister as a reliever. If all it takes is two 20-30 range prospects to get him, I’d pull the trigger and see what he can do in a one-inning role.

Andrew Bailey is a wildcard for the 2015 bullpen, but not someone the Yankees will count on
Yankees going with youth in all the right places in 2015
  • Preston

    God Austin Kearns sucked. I don’t know that I’d trade anything significant for McCallister, if we’re shipping out prospects let’s do it for a guy who has upside in the rotation, not the pen.

    • hansdee

      Kearns was awful. Almost makes McCallister “dirty” by being involved in the trade.

  • Literally Figurative

    Another failed starter on Cashman s resume….

    Seriously, i don’t see any issues with a reunion. He would fit in the middle relief mix we have going in to spring training, and wouldn’t cost too much if he flamed out.

  • Leftballer

    I’d prefer him over German ( the relief pitcher they got from the Mets).

    • Preston

      Sure, but Germen (German is the A ball starter from the Marlins) cost cash considerations, McCallister will cost actual prospects.

      • Scott

        It’s going to be confusing figuring these two out:
        Domingo German
        Gonzalez Germen

        • Preston

          Acquired on the same day too. Cash is trying to confuse us.

  • Game 3

    Zach ‘Deuce’ McAllister

  • Michael Thompson

    It worked for Chris Stewart. We brought him back three or four times. Maybe it will work for this guy, too.

    Important questions: does this move reverse the direction of time? Because we need to make the team younger. What about the budget?? Will he take away reps from Refsnyder?

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      This may cause the premature death of Austin Kearns, though.

      • hansdee

        That already took place.

    • hansdee

      What worked for Chris Stewart?

      • Michael Thompson

        What _didn’t_ work for Chris Stewart? Hell of a guy, hell of a ball player.

        • Canarsie Yankee

          Stewvelli set to dominate once again in 2015.

        • hansdee

          Ah, yes. Of course he was.

  • MTU

    We already have a McAllister.
    His name is Chase Whitley.
    Why bother ?

    • http://riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      McAllister has like 5mph on Whitley, more when he’s in relief.

      • MTU

        Still not ready to bite.
        Whitley gets plenty of GB’s.

        • Mattycakes

          Whitley’s GB rate in 2014: 45.3
          McAllister’s: 42.1.
          That’s like a 3 % difference. I would take the high heat over that.

          • MTU

            OK. As long as we can drink to it.
            :)

            • http://www.google.com/ Tanuki Tanaka

              How about ice cream sandwiches?

              • MTU

                As long as they’re spiked w rum. Sure.

  • http://www.twitter.com/Ray_Zayas Raymond Zayas

    Trade him for Peter O’ Brien! Oh wait..

  • Bobby d

    id rather give Jacob Lindgren his well deserved chance.

    • MTU

      Has Lindgren even tossed a pitch at AAA yet ?

      • 86w183

        McAllister would be replacing Kelly in the pen so Lindgren really not a factor. Lindgren might be the closer in Scranton while Wilson serves as the second lefty in the pen.

        • MTU

          I don’t see a lot of difference between Zach and Chase.

          • 86w183

            I think McAllister is a lot more talented. Whitley got off to a nice beginning in his first seven starts (3-0, 2.56), but after that he was 1-3, 8.02. He’s got Aaron Small type stuff from what I see.

            McCallister was 9-9, 3.75 just a year ago over 24 starts.

            • MTU

              We’re looking for a middle reliever not a starter.
              They both have good GB tendencies.
              Whitley has proven effective if used a little
              more sparingly is my contention.
              No need to toss away prospects when we already have a guy who, to me at least, is similar.

              • 86w183

                I’m not saying I’d give up much for him, just that he’s more talented than Whitley.

                Whitley might be even more effective with the new left side of the infield compared to opening day a year ago.

                • MTU

                  I think we’d need to give away more than we should, and he costs more too.
                  Pass.

      • Preston

        He’s only thrown 11.2 innings at AA. Lindgren’s the big name because he was last years 2nd rounder. But the Yankees have plenty of relief prospects at AAA who are probably currently higher on the depth chart.

        • MTU

          No way he’s earned a promotion to the Bigs yet.
          His AA #’s, even in the small sample, are not impressive.
          Kid needs more seasoning.
          Maybe even some Jalapeno’s.

          • Jorge Steinbrenner

            jalapeno’s speed up the maturation process?

            • MTU

              Seasoning.

            • Canarsie Yankee

              I don’t know about jalapenos, but definitely some pickling is in order.

              • http://www.google.com/ Tanuki Tanaka

                “Spinach” on the other hand…

  • Vern Sneaker

    Nice analysis, Mike. I’d do this in a heartbeat. Top 20-30 prospects are lottery tickets, McAllister’s Pitch 1-25 stats are nearly a season’s worth of plate appearances. More than projectible enough.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    I’d be game. We can get back probably the best prospect we traded at the deadline in about a generation, even though I hear on here that we just give them away for candy (no, not that kind of candy) every July.

    • Let’s Go Yanks

      A generation is 50 years. I will only go back to 2000. Jake Westbrook to David Justice, also a Cle-Ny trade.

      • 86w183

        A generation is more like 20-30 years… the age range at which most people become parents.

        • MTU

          In a parallel Universe it’s possible a generation could be longer or shorter.
          Just sayin’.
          :)

          • http://www.google.com/ Tanuki Tanaka

            Back in the cavemen days 20 years is like a life time

            • MTU

              And changing tires really sucked.

              • http://www.google.com/ Tanuki Tanaka

                Folks didn’t have to get a drivers license, a license to practice medicine or a license plate.
                Ain’t no drinking age either.

                • MTU

                  No need for Physicians.
                  Everyone died young anyways.
                  Death by Sabretooth was horrible they say.

                  • http://www.google.com/ Tanuki Tanaka

                    Don’t get me started on midwifes.

                    • MTU

                      Undertakers were in big demand and Shamans.

                    • http://www.google.com/ Tanuki Tanaka

                      Smoke signals were considered new-fangled form of communication.

                    • MTU

                      So easy a Caveman could do it.

                    • MTU

                      So easy a Caveman could do it.

                • Preston

                  But you had to make your own alcohol. I’m not patient enough for that shit.

                  • tomingeorgia

                    Move down here and I’ll show you. Doesn’t take long at all.

                    • MTU

                      I thought that was Blake’s job ?

                • Canarsie Yankee

                  They did, however, need a license to rock and roll.

                  • http://www.google.com/ Tanuki Tanaka

                    I kinda want to watch the flintstones now.

              • tomingeorgia

                And a new battery didn’t cost a hundred bucks.

            • http://shhhorsie.com Cheval Anonyme

              That’s a misunderstanding. Lots of people died in childhood so the life expectancy at birth was short; but if you made it past that you could expect to live to 50-60. Life expectancy actually got shorter when cities started happening, due to communicable diseases.

        • Game 3

          Thanks, wikipedia

        • Canarsie Yankee

          It’s only 12 years on the Maury show.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Fine. If we want to define “generation” YOUR way. ;)

        • Let’s Go Yanks

          Your thesis is sound. Most of the top prospects get deal in the offseason vs. in-season. We all remember Marty Janzen and co. for David Cone in 1995 and then generational Matt Drews for Fielder in ’96.

          • Canarsie Yankee

            Do you know how many people would have flipped their shit over losing Janzen if it occurred today?
            I feel so much better about the past now.

        • http://www.google.com/ Tanuki Tanaka

          Generation: the production of something.

          therefore he’s the best prospect in about a production of something.

      • http://shhhorsie.com Cheval Anonyme

        More like 30 years. “The average interval of time between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring.”

      • Mississippi Doc

        A generation is closer to twenty years

  • Game 3

    He and Headley can be the ‘Guys Whose Names Sound Canadian’ on the team. It will be awesome.

    • MTU

      What so great about sounding Canadian ?

      • LazerTown

        • MTU

          Thanks. I get it now.

      • http://yankeecanada.com/ Bob(bobby) M.

        eh?

  • Let’s Go Yanks

    My preference is for starters turned relievers in the pen. Robertson feels like the outlier in college reliever makes good. Melancon turned out good in Pitt, though I still wonder whether he could take it in NY. I would like to see what a hopefully healthy Ramirez can do with just his fastball/change. Change of pace type pitchers like Long could create a different look. I have my doubts about Lindgren at this point until he starts throwing strikes as I worry that more advanced hitters will hold off on the slider.

    • MTU

      I think J-Ram can take a big step forward this year.
      A “sleeper”.

      • Let’s Go Yanks

        If he can stay healthy, hence the move to the pen. Durability. It is why I would prefer putting the injury cases/lack of durability in the pen, and move the Mitchells/Warrens into the rotation to go 5-6.

        • MTU

          J-Ram has a very big arm.
          Harness it and keep him healthy and you’ll really have something special.

          • http://cnn.com/ Magic Rat

            Big arm and a very good change up too.

            • MTU

              Kid has wicked natural movement on that heat.
              And the CU is excellent.
              I’m pulling for him.

              • Preston

                He needs to stay healthy and he needs to throw strikes. The stuff is there in spades.

                • Bpdelia

                  I really like him and am pulling for him and this is in no way laughing at your expense but….

                  When i read “stay healthy and throw strikes and he’s going to be good” i actually laughed because that same sentence had probably been used thousands of times about hundreds of guys over the last fifty years.

                  Staying healthy is pretty much up to the gods and throwing strikes is something that very very few guys actually learn.

                  Now obviously his control/command issues aren’t crazy unfixable extreme but…. Learning to throw strikes is to fans the same as “learn a better batting eye and don’t swing at balls!!”

                  It’s a skill that guys generally have or don’t. Guys can tinker and get a bit better and very very rarely a light bulb goes on ala bettances but usually guys who can’t stay healthy and can’t throw consistent good strikes stay that way.

                  • MTU

                    Still too young to draw that as a final conclusion.
                    He can be effectively wild w his type of stuff.

                    • Preston

                      I think the health problems play into the command problems. It’s hard to get your mechanics more consistent and repeatable when you keep having forced vacations.

                    • MTU

                      I agree.
                      He has had a little bit of health-related arrested
                      development.
                      I’ll put him on the “list” along w our others.
                      That FB/CU combo can be scary good.

                  • Preston

                    Moving to the bullpen full time was supposed to help with both. Didn’t really work that way last year. Managed only 22 innings between AAA and MLB, and walked 17. We’ll see if year two is any better. I agree with your point though and don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that he’s ever going to be a command guy, but with his stuff he could be successful if he could even keep the BB/9 under 5.

              • http://cnn.com/ Magic Rat

                Same. He could be a hell of an addition if he can put it together and stay healthy.

                • MTU

                  Oh yeah. Like big time.

          • http://www.google.com/ Tanuki Tanaka

            Big arm indeed.

            • MTU

              Like Mega-big.

              • http://www.google.com/ Tanuki Tanaka

                Big head too apparently.

                • Jorge Steinbrenner

                  You know what that means.

                  • MTU

                    Partying w Pineda would spell trouble.
                    :)

                  • http://www.google.com/ Tanuki Tanaka

                    If he goes to bat he needs a Cervelli helmet?

  • https://www.facebook.com/daniel.wasserman.35 nsalem

    McAllister was dominant in his last 5 appearances and his velocity was up to 97 mph. Even though the Indians are stacked in the bullpen with some great young arms, I don’t think the Indians are going to get rid of him for a couple of fringy prospects. I think baseball is coming into an era where we will be in for a significant drop in runs being scored in innings 7 through 9.

  • Canarsie Yankee

    Middle-tier prospects? Sure, why not.

  • MTU

    I’ll drink to the new Zack attack (or most anything).
    Helps the cause or is just another convenient excuse.
    Either way it’s win-win.
    Long live Zack.

  • Mississippi Doc

    Who sats that they want to trade him?