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40 in 40: Steve Cishek

The gangly righty will play a huge role in the story of the 2017 M’s bullpen - let’s hope it’s a positive one.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Seattle Mariners Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Cishek is one of the good guys, one of those players you like having on your team.

Need proof?

  • Even after losing the closer role, with every right to be bitter at Young Phenom Edwin Diaz, he took the opposite tack.
  • Following a blown save, he’s still pumping up his teammates.
  • He hosts a Wiffle Ball Classic every year for charity, which is amazing because wiffle ball.
  • He doesn’t take himself too seriously (EVEN WHILE ON CRUTCHES).
  • And, oh yeah, he’s a pretty good reliever too.

Following a down year in 2015, Cishek bounced back in a big way last year, with huge jumps in his K% (from 19.8% to 29.5%), batting average against (.256 to .189), and FIP (3.86 to 3.57), among others.

Yet 2016 wasn’t without its trials and tribulations. The 30-year-old righty lost his closer job in early August and went on the disabled list soon after, though one could argue that his demotion had more to do with the otherworldly abilities of one Edwin Diaz than any lack of performance on his part.

Now, Ethan wrote a piece a few weeks ago on Cishek’s ‘16 campaign that goes into far more detail than this piece allows me, and I encourage you to read it here. But in case you didn’t click on the link, here’s what you need to know:

The improvement in 2016 wasn’t a fluke, Cishek very much has his career back on track with tangible changes that fall outside of the “eh, he just got luckier” argument. Will he ever again be the Sultan of Sidearm he was in 2014? Probably not, but there’s a happy medium between 2014 Cishek and 2015 Cishek and it appears he has settled into it. If his health fully recovers and he continues the trends we saw in his debut season in Seattle, the Mariners probably have a setup man capable of duplicating the 3.53 xFIP and 0.9 fWAR performance (for what it’s worth, Steamer projects him at 3.95 xFIP and 0.6 fWAR in 2017).

However! There’s a pretty big black cloud hanging over Cishek’s 2017, in the form of hip surgery he underwent in October. Per Ryan Divish’s story, Cishek is expected to require four to six months of rehab, meaning his availability for spring training is in doubt.

We know he’s off crutches...

Freedom. #fistdaywalking #2monthsofcrutchesnomore #praisethelord

A video posted by Steve Cishek (@srshrek31) on

...but does that mean he’ll be ready when February, or even April, rolls around? Hard to say. But the M’s will need him to pitch early and often this year if they want to contend, given the other relievers in the mix all have their questions, from performance issues to a lack of track record and beyond.

And though the brilliance of Edwin Diaz caused him to lose his ninth-inning role, that demotion could still allow Cishek to appear in more high-leverage spots. Scott Servais is no longer limited by the traditional closer role when using Cishek, meaning the Massachusetts native can be inserted in a jam, whether the fifth or eighth inning.

Steve Cishek is an enigma, a (sub)mariner with occasional command issues who, as recently as two years ago, was one of the more dominant relievers in all of baseball. If the Mariners want to contend in 2017, they’ll need him to provide 60+ valuable relief innings, take the pressure off a shaky starting rotation, and help unite the clubhouse.

It’s possible. It might even be likely. And no matter what, the results will be just like his delivery: unorthodox.