The Los Angeles Angels did not encounter a save situation on Wednesday night. If they had, though, manager Brad Ausmus likely would have turned to a reliever other than Cody Allen, who has permitted five runs in 8 1/3 innings this season. According to MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger, the Angels are removing Allen from the closer's position for the time being:
Allen signed a one-year deal with the Angels over the winter after a seven-plus season stint with the Cleveland Indians that saw him average more than 60 appearances and 20 saves per pop. As recently as 2017 he looked like one of the best closers in baseball, compiling a 4.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio fueled in large part by a K-rate nearing 33 percent.
Allen has since slid off Mount Eckersley. Last year he posted his lowest full-season strikeout rate (27.7 percent) of his career, as well as his highest full-season walk rate (11.4 percent). Ruh roh. Changing venues hasn't helped Allen stave off decline, either. In a small sample, both his strikeout (22.5 percent) and walk (17.5 percent) walk rates have moved in the wrong direction.
To Allen's credit, he has attempted to redesign his approach. This season, he's thrown more than 50 percent curveballs -- that from someone who previously had thrown at least 60 percent fastballs every year sans one. The breaking ball has still coerced whiffs (on more than 50 percent of the swings against it), but he's already yielded two homers off it, too. He's never given up more than two home runs on his curveball over the course of a full season.
The curveball bend is, unfortunately for Allen, a necessity due to his fastball's ineffectiveness. Entering Thursday, he'd thrown 83 heaters and recorded one swinging strike. There's more to it than generating whiffs, but Allen is someone who has historically lived up in the zone -- to survive there, one's fastball needs to be able to evade lumber. His hasn't. What his fastball has done is lose zip: It's down a full mph from last season and multiple from his prime.
What this has done is turn Allen into a one-trick magician. He can spam curves, but the opposition knows what's coming and can wait him out, forcing him to throw the fastball. To wit, batters have offered on about 38 percent of his pitches -- nearly 10 percentage points below his career norm and the league-average. When they're swinging, they're making more contact, particularly in the zone, where hitters have connected nearly 90 percent of the time.
All the above leaves Allen in an unenviable situation. Try as he might to hide the fastball, his current approach isn't working. The alternative, throwing more heaters, wouldn't seem like a tenable solution, either. So, what's he to do? It's a good question -- one that likely necessitates a further, more complicated transformation -- and one that the Angels need to answer quickly for themselves, lest their season spin further out of control than it already has.