Cody Allen had a very successful 2013 season. The 25 year-old reliever was one of the few bright spots in an Indians bullpen that often disappointed last year. By the end of the season Allen had become one of Terry Francona's most trusted arms in late-inning situations, cementing himself as a go-to guy. The Florida native has a promising future ahead of him, and 2014 should see Allen rise even higher.
When analyzing what made Cody such an effective reliever in 2013, one statistic stands head and shoulders above the rest: His strikeout rate (K/9) was a remarkable 11.26, leading the team by a wide margin (Chris Perez was the next reliever even remotely close, at 9.00). Cody's ability to strike out the opposition made him a force of nature and an automatic choice out of the pen when the game was on the line.
It wasn't just strikeouts that made Allen so dominant. He became the skipper's most dependable weapon thanks to his ability to limit home runs (just 7 given up all year) and how well he cut down on walks (3.33 BB/9, a vast improvement over the 4.66 per 9 he walked in 2012). "We used him in so many high-leverage situations," said Francona. "From the sixth inning on, we went to Cody against lefties or righties to snuff out a rally. He was so good at it." High praise, and well earned. Allen finished up his rookie campaign with a 2.43 ERA and a 6-1 record (a somewhat meaningless stat for a reliever, but it looks pretty) with 2 saves as well. He earned the first save of his major league career in a 4-3 win against the Tigers on May 12th. The first of many in his future we hope.
Allen was relied heavily upon by the Indians last year, appearing in 77 games, the second most in club history, behind Bobby Howry's 79 outings in 2005. Tito and the coaching staff undoubtedly felt little choice but to throw Allen into games since so many other relief options were shaky. Pre-season projections expect him to appear in a similar number of games in 2014: ZIPS forecasts 73 appearances, Oliver anticipates another 77, while Steamer envisions a slight drop to 65. Those projections help to reinforce Allen's importance, and once again he'll be called upon to guide the Indians out of danger in decisive games.
Despite the starting pitching staff being a pleasant surprise in 2013, if they can last longer in 2014, I wouldn't mind seeing Allen used less frequently, to spare his arm. The less we see of our relief pitchers, the better, in my opinion, despite how much I enjoy seeing Allen strike out hitters.
Given his considerable status now, Allen will likely feature in games only when the outcome is in jeopardy. I predict we'll see Cody less often in games when the Indians have a multi-run lead. Instead he'll be saved for those crucial moments in the latter innings when he can be put to better use, especially if newly acquired closer John Axford struggles to adapt to life in Cleveland. Allen is the natural choice to succeed him in the 9th inning (Bryan Shaw is the other realistic alternative) and definitely has the makings of a future closer.
Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves though. Allen will probably start 2014 playing the set-up man to Axford's closer, as Chad mentioned in his detailed look at the bullpen. He'll be in the mix when the Tribe gets into trouble or needs to preserve a lead late in the game, and we can expect great things from him in those moments.