The Miami Marlins struggled all over the place in 2012, and the bullpen was definitely not immune to those team-wide problems. The team's pen as a whole performed rather poorly, and in our continuing What Went Right / What Went Wrong series, that area will be covered later today. But once again, here at Fish Stripes, we are all about the #minorvictories, and at least one #minorvictory existed within the 2012 bullpen, and that player was Steve Cishek.
Cishek had performed very well in the previous season after a relatively slow ascent to the majors since being drafted in 2007. Cishek never got to be the closer in a given level, and that may be in part because he never posted elite strikeout numbers in the minors akin to most minor league closers. That, in addition to his sidearm delivery that made him more vulnerable to opposing lefties, kept him away from a potential ninth inning role until he arrived with the Miami Marlins.
Cishek had a strong season in 2011, but he was pressed into a higher leverage situation in 2012 thanks to the struggles of free agent acquisition Heath Bell. Had Bell not imploded as he did, perhaps Cishek would not have stepped in and been asked to perform as he did. But since ascending to the closer role, he has put up a somewhat similar performance to the one he did last season.
In 2012, Cishek upped his strikeouts to levels he never reached in the minors, as he struck out 24.7 percent of batters this season. Compared to 2011, however, Cishek also upped his walk rate (up to 10.6 percent) and his home runs allowed, so his FIP went from a shiny 2.46 to a more good-not-great 3.22. Still, Cishek instilled some semblance of confidence in a bullpen that struggled with it.
One can see this by looking not at his saves (a terrible statistic), but at the FanGraphs stat Shutdowns and Meltdowns that is based on WPA picked up in an appearance. Here is the leaderboard for the 2012 season. Cishek sits tied for 20th among relievers in the majors in Shutdowns, which are innings with at least a certain amount of net positive WPA picked up. His seven Meltdowns are not perfect, but they put him alongside closers like Joe Nathan, Chris Perez, and Rafael Soriano. Cishek's rate of Shutdowns over Shutdowns plus Meltdowns, or what I call SD Rate, is better than a good majority of closers at 80.5 percent and on par with all but the best of the 2012 season.
Did Cishek not pitch as well as he did in 2011? Yes, and that could have been due to a variety of different factors including simple regression to the mean. But Cishek did perform well enough to put up at least one Win Above Replacement (WAR) based on the various WAR metrics, and the truth is that that performance went much better than the rest of the bullpen's work this season. If anything, Cishek deserves praise for consistently being the best in his otherwise lacking team and pitching comparably to other top relievers in the league