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The Cubs’ Steve Cishek signing, by the numbers

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A look at the reliever’s pitches, stats and what he brings to the bullpen

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs continued their pursuit of pitching at this year’s winter meetings announcing that they’d reached a two-year deal with 31-year-old veteran reliever Steve Cishek. You may remember Cishek from this game in 2016 [VIDEO].

While I’ll always remember that pitch fondly, I imagine Cishek is looking forward to making some more positive memories for himself at Wrigley Field over the next two years. So I thought I’d take a look at his stats and pitches to see how he might do that.

The stats

Cishek is a reliable late-inning reliever who has thrown at least 40 innings every year since 2011. He’s thrown over 60 innings in four of those seasons. He’s been a closer on more than one occasion but has really struggled with walks at times and I doubt the Cubs would use him in that role.

Steve Cishek Key Stats

Year IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP WHIP
Year IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP WHIP
2011 54.2 9.05 3.13 2.63 2.46 1.17
2012 63.2 9.61 4.10 2.69 3.22 1.30
2013 69.2 9.56 2.84 2.33 2.52 1.08
2014 65.1 11.57 2.89 3.17 2.17 1.21
2015 55.1 7.81 4.39 3.58 3.86 1.48
2016 64.0 10.69 2.95 2.81 3.57 1.02
2017 44.2 8.26 2.82 2.01 3.34 0.90
Steve Cishek 2011-2017 Fangraphs

I don’t think anyone expects him to return to the exceptional 11.57 K/9 rate he achieved in 2014, but frankly he doesn’t need to do that in the role the Cubs have in mind for him. He’ll be called upon in the late innings to bridge the gap to Morrow, or whoever winds up closing for the Cubs, and he’s more than capable of doing that.

One last statistical note that is worth noting, in 2014 Eno Sarris took a detailed look at how Cishek has managed to avoid platoon splits given his pitch makeup. Fangraphs followed up with Cishek in the offseason and he explained that he basically throws two different sliders, which is intriguing and worth a closer look.

The pitches

So, normally in this section I’d just play around on Brooks Baseball for a while and find some cool information about this pitcher’s pitch make up and changes over time. I’d talk about that for a bit and share some cool charts. This time, however, before I do that, we need to talk about Cishek’s release point, because it changes how we look at each of these pitches. Cishek is a sidearm thrower, which is going to give the Cubs a unique look every time he comes out of the pen. From the Sarris piece above, it also changes the way his particular slider works:

When you throw from that angle, you change the physics of the pitch. That’s because the spin he puts on the ball has more in common with a traditional three-quarter curveball than a traditional three-quarter slot sinker — something you might notice when we you look at Brad Ziegler.

Cishek is coming at you with a sidearm sinker or a sidearm slider 90% of the time. It’s how he’s made his way in this league his whole career, if anything, he’s started using those pitches more, not less, as his career has progressed.

Steve Cishek career pitch selection
Brooks Baseball
Steve Cishek 2017 pitch selection
Brooks Baseball

In fact, Cishek is so comfortable with those pitches he’s discussed needing his catcher to remind him to throw a fastball every now and again (take note, Willson Contreras):

“I’m pretty much slider dominant. I probably threw my slider too much last year. Salty (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) picks up on a lot, and noticed that. If I’m throwing nothing but sliders and the hitter hasn’t seen a fastball in awhile, he’s probably pretty comfortable. If I’m throwing too slow, and away too much, I need to start running balls in to keep them honest.

“With too many sliders, I also can get in trouble because my arm slot will start to drop a little too much. That’s more likely to happen when I throw two or three games in a row and maybe get a little lazy in my throwing program. My movement won’t be quite the same when that happens.

One other really interesting note about Cishek’s pitches courtesy of Brooks Baseball. While Cishek has lost velocity over the years (like most pitchers do) the gap between his pitches has remained fairly consistent.

Steve Cishek career velocity by pitch
Brooks Baseball

That velocity gap helps increase the effectiveness of his slider and when Cishek is controlling the zone with these pitches, there are very few more effective middle relievers in the major leagues.

Conclusion

At two years and $12-14 million this is a bit of a pricier middle relief piece than the Cubs have traditionally added, but in this instance I think that extra money is money well spent. Cishek is a proven, reliable, late-inning reliever who gives the Cubs a significant number of innings and a new look out of the bullpen. The unique nature of his delivery and his pitches has made him one of the games most reliable relievers during his eight major league seasons. There is no reason to believe that won’t continue with the Chicago Cubs.