Fish Stripes is bringing you daily articles as part of the All-Time Marlins Countdown leading up to 2021 Opening Day.
Today and every Saturday through the end of the series, I will be a “pinch-hitter” for the Fish Stripes staffers who ordinarily handle these articles. Simply put, Josh Beckett and Steve Cishek belong on the short list of best pitchers the Marlins have ever had.
27. Josh Beckett
Most casual baseball fans would first and foremost associate Josh Beckett with the Red Sox. That’s where he pitched for the majority of his MLB career, earned each of his three All-Star selections, nearly won an AL Cy Young award and looked invincible during the 2007 World Series run. But in the relatively brief history of the Marlins franchise, he distinguished himself as one of their all-time most iconic figures.
The No. 2 overall pick in the 1999 MLB Draft, the Texas high schooler needed only two years to make the progression from signing his professional contract to debuting in The Show. In between, he demonstrated every attribute that evaluators want to see from a future ace. Baseball America ranked Beckett as one of the best pro prospects of the last several generations.
Beckett’s 2003 campaign was more turbulent than you may remember. He got the distinction of starting for the Marlins on Opening Day—one of the youngest pitchers to ever do so for them—but couldn’t make it through three innings, charged with seven runs (only two earned). One week shy of his 23rd birthday, Beckett suffered an elbow injury that sidelined him throughout most of May and all of June. By the time he rejoined the big league club, the Fish had a new manager and had surged to the .500 mark.
Working in the long shadow of rookie phenom Dontrelle Willis, Beckett was not widely regarded as Florida’s regular season ace. However, he led the pitching staff in strikeouts (152), fielder independent pitching (2.94) and adjusted earned run average (138). Interim skipper Jack McKeon certainly noticed that production and entered the postseason with the big right-hander atop his rotation.
Beckett pitched more than one-quarter of the total innings for the Marlins during that magical month (42.2 IP of 159.0 IP) and recorded more than one-third of their strikeouts (47 of 134). Capping it off, of course, he tossed a complete-game shutout in World Series Game 6. We may never see that again in a championship-clinching situation.
Beckett’s effectiveness took a small step back during the World Series hangover season, but he rebounded in 2005 with new career-highs in innings, strikeouts and wins. Unfortunately, that loaded team which had legitimate aspirations to contend and a handful of outstanding individual performances never fully meshed. They fell short of an October berth and ownership decided to blow it all up.
Painful as it was at the time, the blockbuster sending Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston proved to be beneficial for both clubs. Then-prospects Hanley Ramírez and Aníbal Sánchez were MLB contributors the very next season and stuck around for many years.
Beckett’s career counting stats put him comfortably among the top 10 pitchers in Marlins history, but that’s underselling his impact. His 3.46 ERA and 3.38 FIP as a starter are second only to Josh Johnson. All things considered, I expect to see him in our Marlins Hall of Fame in the very near future.
26. Steve Cishek
The furthest thing from a “baseball powerhouse,” lean right-hander Steve Cishek played collegiately at Tennessee’s Carson-Newman University. The Marlins saw enough promise in him to select Cishek in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, signing him for a $139,500 bonus. They envisioned Cishek being best suited for a reliever role long term and never wavered from that during his development. He made 464 official pitching appearances with the organization (180 in minors, 284 in majors), all of them coming out of the bullpen.
Cishek had good fastball velocity throughout his 2010-2015 big league Marlins tenure, generally sitting in the 92-94 mph range. But the biggest keys to his success were a deceptive sidearm throwing motion—release point approximately four feet above the ground—and a willingness to trust his slider in any count. Although awkward-looking, he was able to be consistent and durable with it, never landing on the injured list.
The second half of Cishek’s 2013 season was especially dominant. He converted all 17 save opportunities following the All-Star break and didn’t allow a home run in 28 innings. It was more of the same throughout 2014 as he converted 39 saves (sixth-highest single-season total in Marlins history) and stranded every baserunner that he inherited.
Cishek was so good at closing games that it quickly made him expensive. The Marlins agreed to pay him $6.65 million for the 2015 season, but knew they wouldn’t be giving him another arbitration raise beyond that. With the team hopelessly out of the playoff mix, they shipped him to the Cardinals prior to the midsummer trade deadline in exchange for Kyle Barraclough.
In his post-Marlins life, Cishek has continued to pitch well, however he’s been mainly cast as a setup man, not a closer. He doesn’t generate ground balls at quite the same frequency, leaving him more susceptible to home runs.
Thirty-four years old as of this writing, Cishek just pitched against the Fish on Friday! He’s a non-roster invitee at Astros spring training and seemingly has a strong chance of being added to their 40-man roster in time for Opening Day.