|Name:||Robert Gray Allen||Position:||LHRP|
|Tribe Time:||1961-63, 1966-67||Number:||24, 40, 36|
|DOB:||October 23, 1937|
|Best Season (1967)||0||5||.000||2.98||47||5||54.1||49||18.0||4||25||50||8.3||3.09||1.37|
The Indians had some dynamite starting pitching in the 1960’s. From Sam McDowell to Luis Tiant and Sonny Siebert, the rotation was dominant for most of a decade. At the same time, they had some great relievers as well. Frank Funk was solid from the right side while Gary Bell split time between the pen and the rotation. From the left side, however, Bob Allen was the best of decade.
Allen was signed by the Indians in 1956 and was sent to the D League at 18 years old. While he would have a poor first season, he’d be better in A ball the next year and would finally have a breakout season in 1960 in AA. All this time, Allen was primarily used as a starting pitcher, but when he finally got his chance in the Majors in 1961, it would be as a reliever and, in fact, he would never start a game in the Major Leagues.
In 1961, Allen would break camp with the team and stay on the Major League roster all season. Used in a flex role, the left hander pitched in ranges anywhere from a single batter to six innings in relief. He started out hot and through his first 28 games he had thrown 55.2 innings and struck out 27 with a 1.78 ERA. From there on, however, he would struggle, possibly due to the heavy workload. He would finish the season with 48 games and 81.2 innings, both the high marks for his entire career. His ERA would also balloon to 3.75 thanks to 23 earned runs in his final 26 innings of the season. Four times he allowed three or more runs in an appearance, but incredibly he lost just two of those games, his only two losses for the year.
Overall, it was a successful rookie campaign with a rough ending and in 1962 he was back in Cleveland. This time he reversed his previous season and dealt with the consequences. As often happens with relievers, a poor start to begin the year marred the rest of his season as he gave up two in his first appearance and two later walked the only two batters he faced. Even though he would go eight games without allowing an earned run, that would only push his ERA down to 2.25 before five runs in the three games would push it back up near 4.00. As he continued to struggle, Allen would be sent back to the minors at the end of June, only to return when rosters expanded in September.
A strong September would help Allen back onto the 25 man to begin 1963 and he would spend the entire season with the Indians. While he finished with a 4.66 ERA, he had an impressive 51 strike outs compared to 29 walks in 56 innings, especially when you consider he only struck out 23 compared to 25 walks the year before. One of the reasons for his success was that he was largely used against left handers. While the LOOGY had yet to be invented, he faced lefties more often than the average reliever and against them allowed an average of .253 and struck out 25% of batters compared to 16% of left handers. While this wouldn’t necessarily help Allen directly, his success would be one of the reasons that the left handed specialist would gain interest as a weapon in the decades to come.
Despite being fairly successful in a difficult role (he continued to pitch to just a single batter in some games, but for three or more innings in others), the Indians had tired with Allen after three seasons. He was traded to the Pirates, then sent back during the off-season before the Indians let him leave to play for the PCL Portland Beavers. After a rough 1964 and a great 1965 that saw Allen return to the rotation, the Indians would bring him back in a relief role for 1966.
By this time, that stellar rotation had been completely assembled and Allen was often used late in close games, leading to five saves, four holds and two wins in 36 games. While his K/9 dropped, his walk rate also dropped to a career low 2.3 leading to a career best 2.65 FIP. Unfortunately, the Indians didn’t have the defense or offense to compete despite their incredible pitching staff and Allen’s ERA didn’t match, sailing all the way to 4.21.
If the Indians had tired of Allen in 1963, they should have given up for good after 1966 based on traditional statistics, but they stuck with the reliever. He pitched for the Tribe in 1967 from game one on and had the best and final season of his career. A week into the season he would have two saves and he’d go on to hold three and save five, good for 19 in his career. For the entire season, he never allowed more than two runs in an appearance, but was incredibly unlucky, taking five losses to no wins. His ERA matched his effectiveness this time, however, at 2.98.
In 1967, his splits were even more profound than they had been the year before as he allowed a .148 average to lefties and a .306 to right handers. His K/BB rate was similarly distinct at 1.24 vs RHH and 3.63 vs LHH. Had the Indians been willing to make the big jump and use him as many relievers have been used since, in a pure LOOGY role, Allen could have been a star for years. Instead, 1967 would be his final Major League season at the age of just 29. The next two seasons Allen would pitch for the Beavers again, then the Indians would bring him back for a short preview in AA Witchita in 1970, but they were obviously unimpressed and Allen finished out his career with the Pacific Coast League Hawaii Islanders.
Unquestionably, Allen was ahead of his time. Had he began his career 20+ years later he would have been discovered as the specialist he was. Instead, he faced a stigma of not being able to retire right handed hitters. As it was, he still had a solid, although short, career that was played entirely for the Indians at the Major League level. Even if he wasn’t considered it at the time, we can look back now and say that Allen was one of the best left handed match up men in Indians history, comparable to those who have been used more strategically in recent seasons like Paul Assenmacher, Rafael Perez and Andrew Miller.