It's entirely possible that no one has been more critical of Steve Cishek and his signing than I. Whether in these hallowed pages or on the micro-blogging social media website twitter dot com, I thought spending $7 million on Cishek was bad enough, not to mention multiplying that over two years and handing the man the closer's role from the get-go.
Outside of melting down in an otherwise enjoyable home opener, Cishek has performed well thus far. However, I'm not prepared to sit here, pantless, and say he's awesome and the signing has been vindicated. We're getting closer and closer with every successful outing, but we're not quite there yet. I am prepared to say, however, that something weird is going on with our resident danger up in this club.
Below is a pair of tables highlighting Cishek's arsenal over the past couple full seasons, as well as his early 2016 results (through Monday). For the uninitiated, these Pitch F/X numbers are based around the hypothetical pitch that doesn't spin, and release point has a factor in movement numbers compared to that hypothetical pitch. For the sake of this piece, let's just focus on the differences between seasons and stay out of the individual values.
In the past, Cishek's sinker resulted in grounders, as it should. It generated some swings-and-misses, which it should. This year, his sinker has been slightly flatter vertically, but not enough to explain a severe change in batted-ball results, yet he's inducing grounders on less than four-in-ten balls in play using the pitch. His slider, on the other hand, has gone the other way. Cishek's slider is generating grounders at a rate unseen by the right-hander since 2011. Best yet, Cishek's slider is generating whiffs at a rate well above anything he's done previously.
So, what's it all mean? Perhaps the Mariners have asked him to change his approach and the weirdness is deliberate. Perhaps it's just random noise that will return to normal over time. We're dealing with less than 100 of either pitch, so it's far too early to say anything definitively, but it is something to keep an eye on.
The next time we speak, maybe I'll be prepared to say nice things about Steve Cishek.