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Cody Allen has been mediocre and we didn’t even realize it

The Indians reliever might have good season numbers, but a closer look reveals otherwise.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The back end of the Cleveland Indians bullpen rose to fame in 2016 on the backs of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, two of the best relievers in baseball last year.

This season has more or less been the same. Miller has a 1.53 ERA and a 13 K/9 in 47 innings. Of the seven earned runs he’s surrendered, four came in one appearance. On the surface, Cody Allen appears to have been performing like last year. He has a 3.16 ERA, 12 K/9, and 3 BB/9, all numbers roughly in line with career norms.

However, Allen’s sparkling April has hidden what’s been a pretty subpar season since then.

Cody Allen Month Splits

Month ERA FIP K% BB%
Month ERA FIP K% BB%
April 0.90 -0.56 50% 2.5%
May 4.22 5.58 23% 13.7%
June 3.48 5.46 27% 6.8%
July 4.50 2.28 22% 7.4%
League Average for RP 4.09 4.08 23% 9.2%

After his ridiculous start to the season, Allen has been pretty pedestrian. He had a horrendous month of May and has been a bit better in June, with signs pointing up in July. But he hasn’t been the shutdown, set-it-and-forget reliever we expected him to be. What’s changed with him?

For one, batters are making a lot more contact against him in the zone this year.

Allen is surrendering 89% contact in the strike zone, by far a career high and above the 83% league average rate for relievers (Note: the league average shown above is for all pitchers). As you might expect, his overall Contact% has risen to 71%, his highest mark since 2013 when it was 74%. Although not to blow it out of proportion, his mark from 2014-16 was 70%.

Along with his sudden shift of being more hittable in the zone, Allen is failing to induce groundballs at the rate he was last year. In 2017, he owns a 33.7% groundball rate, putting him in the top 13 percent of relievers with the lowest rate. While that’s just a couple of percentage points below his career norm, it’s a far cry from the 45% mark from 2016. As such, his flyball rate has ballooned to 47%, up from 36% last season.

Allen has also tweaked his pitch mix. In his last three years, he’s stuck to a 65/35 split between his fastball and knuckle curve usage. This season, he’s seen a dramatic 55/45 shift. His 287 curveballs are second most behind Dellin Betances’ 337. Beginning in May, his fastball usage has steadily declined, giving rise to more curveballs. In July, it sits at an exact 50/50 split. The good news is that it’s still getting a decent of amount of whiffs. Of RP who have thrown at least 100 curveballs, he’s sixth of 40 with a 51.8% whiff/swing rate.

What to do?

In summation, Allen is increasing his curve usage, isn’t inducing as many grounders as you’d like and isn’t fooling hitters in the zone. His velocity remains fine and he’s getting fairly unlucky with a .355 BABIP (career .301).

I’m not advising you sell aggressively, but that you shift the lens through which you view Allen. He’s still a solid reliever, but that’s the point I’m trying to make — he’s just solid.

Indians manager Terry Francona has continued to use him primarily in the 9th inning, but given the lack of save opps, there hasn’t been much clarity between the role he and Andrew Miller share. Allen has only three saves since June 1 while Miller has had two.

It’s still fair to assume the former is the closer, but given his regression and lack of opportunities, I’d consider ranking him outside the top 15 closers. A little over a week ago, our own Rob Parker ranked the tandem of Allen/Miller 18th, and I think that’s fair. If you can capitalize on name value, you might be able to trade him and extract a little bit more value than he’s actually been producing this season.