On several of the comment threads here at CtPG lately, I have noticed a lot of complaining about Steve Cishek. According to my eye test as I have been watching the games this year, that assessment seems a little harsh. To me, it seems like Cishek has been more mediocre this year than terrible. For every stretch of games where he has been ineffective, he offsets that with an equal stretch of games where he has been effective.
At least, that’s how Cishek’s performance so far this year feels to me. But is that also what the cold, hard facts say?
When you head on over to Fangraphs or B-Ref and look at his stats, they seem to indicate that Cishek has actually been pretty good this year. His ERA is 2.88, which is fantastic. His batting average against is .224, which is below the league average of .245. His OPS Against is .605 which is also below league average, which sits at .729.
B-Ref also says that according to their version of WAR, Cishek has been the Angels’ second most valuable reliever this year (Iglesias is at 1.2 and Cishek is at 0.9).
Could Cishek really be that good?
The only way to find out is to go to his game log and calculate his tERA (true ERA) because this is the only stat that tells you how effective a pitcher has actually been.
For those unfamiliar with tERA, in this stat a pitcher is credited with giving up a quarter of a run for each base that he allows a runner who scores to advance.
So for example, if Cishek comes into a game with an inherited runner at second base and then gives up a single that allows the runner at second to score, Cishek has given up 0.50 runs. Also, if Cishek gives up a triple and then is taken out of the game and his replacement gives up a single that scores the runner from third, then Cishek would have given up 0.75 runs.
When I was compiling the data I needed to figure out Cishek’s tERA, I noticed that in his 45 appearances so far this year, 27 of those appearances ended with none of the runners he inherited nor with any of the batters he faced having scored. That means that in 60% of his appearances this year, none of his inherited runners scored and none of the batters he faced scored.
Is that a good percentage? Is it above average? I had nothing to compare it to, so I found a highly regarded reliever who is not a closer (Chad Green of the Yankees, who has the fifth highest fWAR in the American League this year) to compare with Cishek.
After looking at all of the games Green has pitched in this year, I found that in his 37 appearances, there were 28 times that he did not allow an inherited runner to score nor did any of the batters he faced scored. That is a rate of 76%, which is considerably better than Cishek’s rate.
Getting back to Cishek’s tERA, I found that Cishek should be credited with 23.25 runs in the 40.66 innings he has pitched this year for a tERA of 5.13, which is not good. You don’t want a pitcher being responsible for giving up 5.13 runs for every nine innings he pitches.
So if Cishek’s Batting Average Against is below average, and his OPS Against is below average, why is his tERA so high? It is not because he gives up extra base hits. Cishek has given up no home runs nor any triples this year. What drives his tERA all the way up to 5.13 are all of the walks he gives up. Cishek has given up 24 walks so far for a horrible 5.31 walks per nine innings rate. Too many of these walked batters have not only pushed inherited runners one base closer to home, but too many of the batters he has walked have ended up scoring after Cishek had left the game.
Title Image screenshot from Baseball Savant