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Miami Marlins closer Steve Cishek's early velocity problems

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Steve Cishek blew another save against the New York Mets, and a spotlight was shone on his decreased velocity for this early part of the season.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins were closing in on a 1-0 win against the division-leading New York Mets, but Steve Cishek struggled in his one inning against the Mets. He struck out two batters, but he also walked a man and gave up two hits, including the game-winning three-run homer to Daniel Murphy. It was Cishek's second blown save against the Mets this year, and it bumped a lot of his early season numbers to ugly proportions.

Of course, the key is that it is early in the season, so there is plenty of time to correct any incongruities. Cishek had not been getting regular work when the Marlins were struggling in the first few weeks, and they won a lot of their games in blowout fashion last week, thus not necessitating their closer. However, there is one thing that is worth pointing out early in the year for Cishek. Play-by-play man Rich Waltz pointed it out last night, and that may have been the first time the broadcast noticed something that some fans have astutely pointed out the last few times out: Cishek's velocity is down this season.

The Numbers

Stats per Brooks Baseball, before last night's game:

Cishek, 2012-2015 Four-seam velo (mph) Two-seam velo (mph) Slider velo (mph)
2015 91.1 90.5 80.3
2014 93.0 92.6 82.4
2013 93.7 93.3 84.0
2012 93.6 93.0 83.1

Those drops look pretty drastic. This does not appear to be a minor tick in velocity loss, as Cishek appears to have dropped two miles per hour on his fastball and his slider. Of course, he has only thrown 40 or so two-seamers and sliders and just about 10 four-seam fastballs, so we are once again dealing with extremely small samples here.

However, velocity is not like strikeouts or walks, where numbers take a longer time to settle in. True talent comes out fairly quickly when it comes to something as inherent as velocity, and speed has a large part to do with run prevention for pitchers. This is especially relevant for guys who do not boast fantastic velocity in the first place. For a dominant reliever like Cishek, he does not have your prototypical blazing fastball, and his stuff is just as much deception and angles associated with his release as it velocity. However, when you are a reliever throwing in the low 90's, you have a lot less room with which to work than a guy who drops from 98 to 96 on the radar gun.

The Factors

Now, before we jump to any conclusions at all, there are more than a few factors in play. As mentioned above, Cishek has not received a lot of playing time, and he could indeed be "rusty" with his pitching. It is not unreasonable to think that he could use some more time to get the early cobwebs out after the Marlins essentially shelved him for two weeks with their losing ways.

The other potential confounders are a little more based on historical precedent. For one, velocity in general is decreased in April compared to other months. Baseball Prospectus's Max Marchi pointed this out a few years ago:

Month

Speed correction value

Avg. temperature

April

-0.28

68°

May

-0.10

72°

June

+0.07

81°

July

+0.13

84°

August

+0.14

82°

September

+0.07

75°

Velocity tends to go  up as the months pass, and it seems to have a decent correlation with the temperature outside; the warmer it gets, the harder pitchers throw. It would not be terribly unusual to see Cishek a tad slower in the early going and picking up gas as we hit midseason.

The other thing is that Cishek has done this before. Check out this graph of monthly velocity from 2013 to 2015.

In 2014, Cishek started off throwing very slowly compared to his usual. In fact, the fastball velocity looked very similar to the velocity from this month so far. He put up a 2.08 ERA and 1.82 FIP with a 27.8 percent strikeout rate, so clearly he was not hurting for skill at the time. By the time he ended the year, he was back up to about his career average in terms of the fastball. It also seems like he was not earning that much playing time last year in April either, as he threw only 8 2/3 innings in that month.

The only difference in that chart is that Cishek's slider is also down in terms of velocity this season. Last year, the slider was at its lowest velocity in the beginning of the year, but it still sat above 81 mph. Right now, he is working it at about one mph less.

This may all mean nothing, and as of right now, I remain unconcerned about Cishek. However, his velocity is now officially another speed story that we have to follow in addition to Mat Latos's. Let's hope Cishek can bounce back like last year and regain that speed as the months pass.