It’s no secret that the Cleveland Indians bullpen is perhaps the best in MLB and we’ve seen this type of domination by other teams carrying them to championships. Anchored by stud lefty reliever Andrew Miller and closer Cody Allen, when Tribe starters get a lead and turn the game over to these two guys in particular, it’s been pretty much lights out since Aug. 1, 2016, when Miller pitched his first game for Cleveland. The Indians bullpen leads MLB in ERA (1.83), HR allowed (2) and runs allowed (23) this season.
After he was acquired from the Yankees, Miller has been everything the Indians could have asked for considering the price that included giving up top prospect in Clint Frazier in the deal. Allen has always been a solid closer and continues to be perhaps the most underrated at that position. However, not too long after Miller was acquired, Allen stepped up his game even more and he’s been nearly unstoppable ever since. Statistically speaking, Allen has been just about as good a pitcher as Miller ever since they’ve become teammates.
Miller has just kept pitching like he always has, in short, amazingly. As of May 8, Miller has pitched 44.2 innings in the regular season during his career with the Tribe and has yielded only 5 runs for a minuscule 1.02 ERA. He’s given up just 22 hits during that span and walked only 6 (0.63 WHIP). He’s also fanned an incredible 68 hitters for a 13.7 K/9 ratio.
By comparison, Allen has pitched 35.2 innings and given up 7 runs since August 1. His ERA during that time is 1.76, which is a pretty spectacular as well. He’s yielded 21 hits and walked 14 (0.98 WHIP). He’s also struck out 54 batters for a similar 13.62 K/9 ratio.
After September 1, Allen stepped up his game even more. Since then, he’s pitched 26 innings in the regular season and allowed just 2 runs for a 0.69 ERA. He’s struck out 39 hitters and given up just 15 hits during that span with 7 walks (0.84 WHIP). In 2017, he’s faced 55 hitters and struck out 24. In the 2016 playoffs, Allen pitched 13.2 innings with six saves and didn’t give up a run and allowed only 8 hits. He did issue five walks, but of course none of those batters scored. In that playoff run, he faced 55 hitters in total and struck out 24 to give him an unreal 15.8 K/9 ratio (in the playoffs!).
Miller to his credit pitched 19.1 innings in the playoffs and gave up just three runs for a 1.40 ERA. He faced 73 hitters and struck out 32 giving him almost as impressive 14.89 K/9 ratio for the playoffs.
So far this season, Allen has been dominating by throwing just two pitches, a four seam fastball and his curveball. His fastball has been averaging a little more than 94 MPH, while his curve is a little over 84 MPH, according to brooksball.net. What’s really helped him achieve even more success in 2017 could be that his curveball is now dropping more than 5 inches per pitch. It’s even dropped more than six inches on average during the month of March.
Why is that so significant? In 2016, his curveball vertical movement ranged in average between a low 3.39 inches to a high of 5.45 inches, with most of the time his curves dropping less than four inches. That means in 2017, his curveball is dropping much more sharply and it’s setting up his fastball, which he continues to throw with about the same velocity as he has during his entire MLB career.
This has allowed Allen to get out of the few jams he’s been in this season often with a big strikeout (or two, or three) and he’s been perfect in nine save opportunities, which is really the bottom line when speaking of his role as the team’s closer. He’s become an elite closer and unquestionably the best to fill that role in team history.
Miller also is primarily a two-pitch pitcher using his fastball and slider that is usually unhittable for right-handers when it slides across the plate toward their back foot. That devastating slider typically moves more than five inches per pitch and at times nears six inches per pitch.
What these two pitchers are doing is invaluable to the Indians bullpen. Miller comes in usually at the most critical point in the game, often facing the heart of a lineup with the game on the line. It could be the sixth, seventh, eighth inning or perhaps even the ninth. After he does the job, then guys like Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero and occasionally Zach McAllister face hitters with much less pressure.
That leaves Allen to come in at the end of the game to get the final outs, sometimes even the final four outs, depending on the game situation and he’s been lights out so far. If Miller and Allen can keep this type of season going, it’s going to be a fun summer in Cleveland.