June 10, 2016

Cody Allen vs. The Mariners

by Daniel Conmy

Last night, the Mariners had the chance for a walk-off home run against Cody Allen, the Cleveland Indians closer. While the term "closer" is not necessary, we signify Allen as the best reliever on the Indians at this time, or at least that is what Terry Francona thinks. We should not be arguing whether or not Allen is an elite reliever, but more of his ability in the ninth inning against the Seattle Mariners. To set the stage, Cody Allen came in with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth and induced a weak ground ball to the second basemen. That concluded the eighth inning.

In the ninth inning, Allen started the inning against Chris Iannetta, Dae Ho Lee, and Nori Aoki. The first at-bat will help set the stage for the rest the inning. Iannetta recently clobbered two home runs in yesterday's game. While recent success is not proven to breed further success, Allen came in with a two-run lead, which gave him the ability to take a chance against Iannetta.

As you seen in the strikezone plot, supplied by Brooks Baseball, Cody Allen tried to work away and down, but his first and fifth pitched leaked over the middle of the plate. Iannetta took the 3-1 offering and scorched a ball to the hole between the third basemen and shortstop. The ball was hit at 97 mph, which usually becomes a hit, but Jose Ramirez, the Indians third basemen made a fine play on the ball. 

That is not an easy play to make and with the slower runner in Iannetta, Ramirez took his time and threw him out with time to spare. The Indians fan appreciated the effort put forth by Ramirez, and I am sure Allen did as well. One out.

Now, Dae Ho Lee is facing off against Allen. Allen starts Lee off with a curveball in the dirt, not the best pitch as you want to obviously start ahead in the count. Allen then proceeds to throw five fastballs in a row, most on the outside corner, but one leaking on the inside half for a ball. Lee struck out on the high fastball. Two out.

Up next, Nori Aoki. Aoki saw two fastballs and smacked the second one up the middle at 97 mph for a single. Two outs, one on. 

Seth Smith stood in the left-handed batters box to face off against Allen. Surprisingly, Cody Allen has reverse splits throughout his career. That means right-handed hitters (.297 wOBA) hit Allen harder than left-handed hitters (.261 wOBA). Aoki does not have significant splits when facing a right handed batter or left handed batter, but Seth Smith has immense splits (63 wRC+ vs. LH and 123 wRC+ against RH). With that noted, Allen starts off Smith with two fastballs on the outside corner, which Smith fouls back. Then Allen comes back with a curveball not placed where he would like for an 0-2 count. Allen throws the curveball over the middle of the plate and Smith hits a line drive into center field. Two out, men at the corners.

Robinson Cano earlier in the game hit two home runs, one coming just the inning before. There is one open base at second and the hitter on-deck is Nelson Cruz. Now as a closer, you trust that your best stuff can beat the opposing teams best stuff, and here we find if that's the case.

We've noted that Allen does not have significant splits when pitching to a right-handed hitter or a left-handed hitter, but Robinson Cano does (137 wRC+ vs. RH and 109 wRC+ vs. LH). He is above league average against both lefties and righties, but certainly hits better against right-handed pitchers. Also, we've seen Allen throw a 12-6 curveball, which helps neutralize any splits when facing a different handed batter. Cano takes the first pitch for a ball high and away. Allen proceeds to throw three more fastballs, one which hits the outside corner, 3-1. This is where Allen does not want to challenge. This is often called a "hitters count" because the hitter can zone in on one certain pitch. What does Allen do? Below, we can see he throws a perfect curveball on the outside corner of the plate for strike two, 3-2.

This chance, this is what you dream about as a kid. Being in a spot where you can hit the game-winning walk-off home run. The Mariners are down by two runs and Robinson Cano, arguably the best batter in their lineup is ready for a 3-2 delivery from Allen. What does Allen do? 

Allen throws the pitch exactly where he should; in the dirt. Three outs, game over.

It is the perfect pitch location for an aggressive hitter who has the ability to hit the ball out of the ball park. Allen was not perfect in this inning by any means, but the last two pitches thrown show his ability to come up in a big spot. Earlier in the inning the same two-strike curveball was left over the middle of the plate. Allen was inconsistent with his placement of the curveball throughout the inning, but he threw the last pitch exactly where no damage could be done. For the Mariners it was a difficult loss, as they see the Rangers lengthened their lead and for the Indians it is a win that keeps them in a four-team race in the AL Central. While this game is only a blip in all 162 games, all of them matter.

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