Cody Allen: A Cleveland Closer’s Weird Year

Cody Allen has had, in his own words, “kind of a weird year.” The Cleveland Indians closer has 30 saves and has given up just a pair of home runs in 59 innings. Meanwhile, his ERA (3.51) is nearly a run and a half higher than it was a year ago (2.07) while his FIP (1.96) is more than a full run lower (2.99). His .366 BABIP is exactly .100 points higher than it was in 2014.

Allen is aggressive. His fastball, which he throws 62.4% of the time, is averaging 95 mph. His spiked curveball, which he throws 36.7% of the time, is averaging 85.9 mph. The 26-year-old right-hander – now in his fourth season – has come out of the Cleveland bullpen 60 times in the current campaign.

Allen talked about his statistical season, and his two-pitch power mix, when the Indians visited Boston in August.


Allen on his repertoire: “I’m pretty straight up. I throw two pitches and I come in at the end of the game. My success is determined by whether those two pitches — a fastball and a curveball — are there or not. I’ve piddled around with a changeup here and there, but it’s not very good, so I haven’t used it too many times.

“I throw a straight four-seamer. My two-seamer doesn’t do anything — it has that lazy run up there that hitters can track — so I go with my four.”

On his spiked curveball: “I started throwing it in 2010, when I was coming off of Tommy John surgery. I have a twin brother who pitched in college and he had a really good one. My breaking ball was kind of hit-or-miss at the time, and he said, ‘You know what, man? Just try spiking it.’ At first, I was throwing it all over the place. I was like, ‘Man, I’m not going to stick with this,’ but he kept telling me, ‘The spin is really good and it’s harder and sharper, so just give it some time, give it some time.’ I stuck with it, and it slowly got better. Last year is when I started getting a lot more consistent with it.

“I threw a slider before. I think the spiked breaking ball is easier on my arm than a slider, but mostly I just needed a better breaking pitch. My slider was just so hit-or-miss; it was too inconsistent to be reliable.”

On shaping his spiked curveball: “Depending on what I want to do with it, it will have a slightly different break. The velocity is probably going to be the same, but the shape is going to be a tad different. If I’m trying to backdoor it to a lefty, I want to stay on top of it more, so I don’t end up sweeping it down and in where he can do some damage. I want more top-to-bottom break on it. If a righty is up and I want him to chase it — I want it to end up out of the zone — I throw it probably more like a slider.

“It’s about the angle my hand is going at the finish. If I’m ripping it little more down to my left hip pocket, it’s going to be top-to-bottom. If I rip it a little bit further to the left at finish, it’s going to have a little more of that sweeping action. On a clock, it will be more 1 to 7, or 1:30 to 7:30, to a righty, whereas it’s more 12:30 to 6:30 on a lefty. There’s a little different axis to it.”

On his four-seamer: “I couldn’t tell you what the spin rate is, but I know what my fastball looks like when I’m throwing it well. It’s going to have some ride to it. I don’t want it to run at all; I want it to be a pretty true fastball that has that late life and rides through the zone.

“I’ll work up with my fastball to get outs, but I don’t like to live up there. If I’m staying up there and then try to bounce a breaking ball, the pitch is coming out of a different window and hitters can see that.”

On his demeanor: “I try to stay as calm as possible. If I get geeked up and the adrenaline really gets going — that’s when I start throwing stuff all over the place. There have been a few times where I’ve kind of let the moment get me. Last year, when we were chasing Detroit, I came into a 2-1 ballgame with the meat of the order coming up. I was too amped up and was trying to throw the ball a million miles an hour. That ended up hurting me. I walked Torii Hunter, then Miggy (Miguel Cabrera) got a hit after I fell behind in the count. I had a chance to get out of it, but then I got behind in the count again and had to attack J.D. Martinez. He didn’t miss it. I need to make sure that I slow things down. “

On his high BABIP: “I think it’s a combination of things. Some of it could be a little bit of bad luck. Some of it could be that hitters have seen me a little more. And some of it is falling behind — getting in bad counts — resulting in hitters getting good pitches to hit and not missing them. I’ve given up some hard contact this year.

“I haven’t given up that many home runs. I gave up seven each of the last two years, which is a fairly good amount. I throw that riding four-seamer, so I get a lot of fly balls and guys are going to connect on some of them. This year I’m giving up more hits, but fewer home runs, and I’m striking out more guys (13.7 per nine innings). It’s been kind of a weird year.”

On his ERA and his FIP: “I know there’s a big gap there. You can look at that and say it’s tough luck, but at the same time, my job is to not give up runs. I’ve given them up at a higher rate than I have in the past, and at the end of the day, a run is a run.

“My season has been pretty spotty. There have been times I’ve felt really good — I’ve felt like I had a good plan and could make pitches — and there have been times I’ve been out there just grinding. But that’s baseball. It happens to everybody.”


Bullpen coach Jason Bere on Allen: “The first time I saw him, he was in instructional league, and you can see now what the vision was. The way he throws the ball, the way he’s attacking. A strength of his is riding his fastball through the glove. It’s pretty true, but it has that late gear to it. The breaking ball is obviously a big pitch for him, too. He’s got two plus pitches.

“When he gets a little bit off is when he gets a little rotational over the rubber, and isn’t direct to the plate. Sometimes, like with anybody, he’ll start working side-to-side a little bit and his breaking ball gets a little flatter — it doesn’t have that top-to-bottom. Being a power arm, he’ll also miss with his fastball at times, but it still has that ride.

“He’s got guts and can handle the ninth inning — we can trust him to close the game — and he’ll also take the ball when he’s asked. Some closers only get up when there’s a three-run lead or less in the ninth. Otherwise they don’t pitch. He’ll come in when we need him.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Happy Camper
7 years ago

Sunday came early!