The Miami Marlins got solid performances from their starting pitchers, and that was the most important positive development of the 2013 season. But the success of the bullpen was also a nice side benefit, and of particular interest to Marlins fans would be the play of closer Steve Cishek. After taking over the role in the second half of last year, he continued his string of good play in the 2013 season, despite a rough early patch.
|Steve Cishek||69 2/3||26.3||7.8||2.33||2.52||1.4||2.1|
Last year, Cishek took over the closer role and pitched decently in the second half of the season, but the first month of 2013 did not go well. He posted a 5.25 ERA and a 4.46 FIP thanks to two home runs allowed in 12 innings. In the month of May, his run totals looked better, as he put up a 3.48 ERA but walked seven while striking out only eight during 10 1/3 innings. Those first two months were disappointing to say the least.
Then Cishek went on a tear that led to one of the better relief seasons in Marlins history. From the start of June until the end of the season, Cishek threw 47 1/3 innings of elite baseball. While he was overshadowed by other top-notch relief performances this year, his work deserved some credit as well. In that time span, he picked up 54 strikeouts versus 11 walks and gave up just one more home run. That led to a 1.33 ERA and 1.80 FIP in that final stretch, a stretch that rivaled some of the better relief runs of the year.
How did Cishek do it? It is actually difficult to see a strong difference in his game from this year to last. He hit his career averages in swing rates in and out of the zone, and batters made about the same amount of contact this year as they have in the last few seasons. He avoided walks with a career-best 7.8 percent walk rate, but his percentage of pitches in the strike zone was actually the lowest he ever put up in a full season. He did not give up many home runs, but he has done that all of his career; the 1.1 percent home run rate is actually worse than his career 0.8 percent mark.
Despite the fact that his 2013 season was categorically better than his previous two years, it barely looks any different than his old years. When we look at his splits, we do not see a clear answer as well. It is obvious he dominated righties this season to a tune of a .177/.233/.223 (.206 wOBA) batting line, but he did it primarily on the back of improved strikeout and walk rates. His work against lefties was also better, as they hit a .285 wOBA against him, but that was akin to his 2011 rookie season. Essentially, his improved work against right-handers was ironically the key to his better numbers.
Cishek is a prime candidate to receive a big raise this offseason, so he could be a player the Marlins may trade to add depth to their roster. After years of depending on outside resources, the club finally developed a homegrown back-of-the-bullpen type, but the Fish would be wise to trade him away when his value is at its highest, as saving 28 consecutive is a luxury the 100-loss Fish could easily afford.