2013 Marlins What Went Right: Cishek and the bullpen

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Like the Miami Marlins' starting pitchers, Steve Cishek and the rest of the 2013 bullpen were among the positives the club had in 2013.

The Miami Marlins got a lot of strong play from their starting pitching, but they were lucky to run into some good play from their bullpen as well in 2013. The starting pitchers got the game going the right way early, but it was the bullpen that at least allowed the Fish to stay in games pitched by Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez.

The Marlins' bullpen as a whole performed admirably. The team posted a 3.42 ERA and 3.26 FIP from their relievers, and said relievers worked the tenth-largest number of innings in baseball. The latter was due to a combination of early innings counts on Fernandez and lack of good play from back-end starters like Tom Koehler and Alex Sanabia, but the former was a surprise. After all, the Fish had barely done much to improve on the pen this year, having only picked up Chad Qualls in the offseason to help bolster the team's depth. It relied on typical names like Cishek and Mike Dunn along with new players like A.J. Ramos and Dan Jennings to work the seventh innings cleanly. The team responded in a solid fashion, posting the lowest home run rate in the majors en route to good run numbers.

The Fish as a group were actually middle-of-the-pack outside of the home runs, however. The team was 18th in strikeout rate and 20th in walk rate. If you correct the peripheral numbers for fly ball rates rather than raw home run totals, the Marlins look more pedestrian, as they ranked 15th in xFIP and 20th in SIERA. All of this is to say that, if we had to do this season over again, it is unlikely that Miami would put up the same level of performance as they did this year.

Nevertheless, what happened on the field did happen, and the Marlins indeed did not allow those extra home runs. A prime factor contributing to that was the play of closer Steve Cishek. After an early rough patch, Cishek dominated from June onward, going 47 1/3 innings to end the year and picking up 54 strikeouts (29.5 percent rate) versus 11 walks (6.0 percent rate) and recording 29 saves versus just one blown save. The fact that Cishek converted 28 consecutive save opportunities does not speak to his skill necessarily, but he legitimately did have an impressive season that turned out to be one of the better relief years in Marlins history.

But the rest of the bullpen contributed as well. Mike Dunn quietly had his best season on the mound by drastically reducing his walk rate.  In his largest workload of his career, he threw just 28 walks in 282 batters faced, a rate of 9.9 percent. Dunn had previously walked more batters than the 28 he did this season in each of the last few years while pitching fewer innings. Chad Qualls had an equally solid year by avoiding his typical pitfall of home runs. His 63.3 percent ground ball rate was a career best, and the four homers allowed was the best he has done since 2008. Combine that with getting his strikeout stroke back and Qualls had a nice 2.61 ERA and 3.35 FIP to his name.

The Marlins' bullpen was able to help the franchise this season more than expected. The team got prime performances from their three most important relievers, and at least one has established himself as either a good closer for the team or, perhaps more importantly, trade bait.

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