Miami Marlins closer Steve Cishek just saved his 33rd game of the 2013 season for a team that has yet to pick up 60 wins. He also recorded his 28th save in a row, putting him in impressive company for the season, if you cared about saves at all. But beyond the facade of saves is an obvious fact: Steve Cishek has been very good for the Marlins this season.
How good? After a rough month of April in which he posted a 5.25 ERA and 4.46 FIP thanks to a surprising number of home runs and a tough May that had a decent ERA but terrible strikeout and walk numbers, Cishek got back to doing exactly what he does best, one inning at a time. Since the start of June, Cishek has thrown 45 1/3 innings and posted a 1.39 ERA with 52 strikeouts (29.4 percent strikeout rate) and 10 walks (5.6 percent walk rate). He turned his season from an abject disaster at the onset to the best season he has ever had.
But has Cishek bested some of the best Marlins relief seasons in history? There is a good chance this may have happened. Let's take a look at the best years in Marlins relief history, by both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
|Robb Nen, 1996||83||28.2||6.4||1.95||2.06||2.7|
|Bryan Harvey, 1993||69||27.7||4.9||1.70||2.19||2.6|
|Todd Jones, 2005||73||21.5||4.8||2.10||2.38||2.2|
|Kiko Calero, 2009||60||28.9||12.6||1.95||2.56||1.5|
|Lee Gardner, 2007||74 1/3||16.7||5.8||1.94||3.04||1.5|
Cishek's season currently does not rank among the five best in Marlins history in terms of FanGraphs WAR, but it actually is very close. His 2.39 ERA and 2.51 FIP (both career bests) put him at 1.4 fWAR, which is just behind the last members of this group and tied with, of all people, Juan Oviedo's 2010 campaign.
The players are the top of the list are perhaps two of the best relievers in Marlins history overall. Robb Nen is the team's franchise leader in saves and the most skilled closer the team has ever had. He was also the man who closed the door on teams during the Fish's 1997 World Series championship team. Of course, Nen only there for a little while before the team traded him away, but Harvey lasted even less time with the Fish. He led the bullpen of the inagural Fish, then fell off the face of the earth shortly thereafter, which was totally unexpected given his successful 1993 season. These two players each had one of their best career years in Miami, and those seasons top the list. Both years were essentially like Cishek's run since June, but throughout the entire year.
Todd Jones's 2005 campaign came out of nowhere and was the best of his career. It was also an odd year, because it came after he bounced around from team to team the previous two years and it eventually landed a closer job in his old town with the Detroit Tigers. There, he promptly returned to being normal Todd Jones.
Kiko Calero and Lee Gardner were parts of the successful 2006 era run of bullpen scrap heap projects who panned out for a season with the Fish before being promptly let go. The Marlins were able to dig out good years from those two veterans before they outlived their usefulness in terms of longer-term deals.
|Bryan Harvey, 1993||69||27.7||4.9||1.70||2.19||4.0|
|Armando Benitez, 2004||69 2/3||23.7||8.0||1.29||3.29||3.4|
|Todd Jones, 2005||73||21.5||4.8||2.10||2.38||2.9|
|Robb Nen, 1996||83||28.2||4.8||1.95||2.06||2.7|
|Clay Hensley, 2010||75||25.1||9,4||2.16||2.87||2.6|
Three of the names on this list are the same as the previous one, as Harvey's, Nen's, and Jones's seasons remain indelibly among the best relief years in Marlins history. Two other seasons pop up on this list however. Armando Benitez was coming off of an awful run with the New York Mets and was looking for a fresh start. He got a one-year deal to audition for the defending champion Florida Marlins after Ugueth Urbina left in free agency, and he took advantage. He led the league in saves and put up a nifty 1.29 ERA, even though his peripheral numbers are questionably worse than almost any name on the list.
Clay Hensley is the other new name, and he was one of the last reclamation bullpen projects the Marlins successfully ran during the 2006 era team. Hensley somehow turned an arsenal that included an upper-80's fastball and a strong changeup and little else into one of the best strikeout years from a Marlins reliever and a shot in 2011. He did not do well that year, as most Marlins bullpen reclamation projects do, and was let go the following season.
Where does Cishek stand in all of this? Currently, he is at 1.9 rWAR, putting him 10th on this list, behind seasons like Calero's, Gardner's, and Urbina's. Urbina's, of course, was a half-year of 33 appearances that helped solidify the Marlins' 2003 Wild Card berth and eventual World Series win. In those 33 appearances, Urbina tossed a 1.41 ERA and 2.80 FIP.
It turns out that Cishek's season is not completely out of the ordinary among the better Marlins relief seasons. He fits comfortably in the top ten of relief years, but it is clear he is not matching up to Bryan Harvey or Robb Nen anytime soon. But the success and improvement on his numbers are comforting, and after the season ends, we will get a better look at why Steve Cishek has been better this year.