On the whole, the Yankees bullpen ought to be considered a strength: Clay Holmes is one of the game’s top closers, Wandy Peralta and Lucas Luetge have been consistently above-average, if a bit prone to occasional meltdowns, and rookie Ron Marinaccio has been a pleasant surprise. Even so, that doesn’t mean the Yankees couldn’t use another arm or two. With the injury to Michael King and the inability of Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loáisiga to get their seasons back on track, they have suddenly found themselves in need of some bullpen depth.
Rather conveniently, the Washington Nationals have a veteran reliever by the name of Steve Cishek, a right-hander with a sidearm delivery and who will be a free agent at the end of the season. Now in his 13th year at the age of 36, Cishek has bounced around the league both as a closer and as a setup man, pitching to a 2.92 career ERA and accruing 133 saves (12th most among active players) in 709 appearances as a member of the Marlins, Cardinals, Mariners, Rays, Cubs, White Sox, Angels, and Nationals.
While no longer the elite reliever he was early in his career — from 2011 to 2017, he had a 2.76 ERA, good for a 144 ERA+ — Cishek has shown this season that he’s still serviceable as a lower-leverage arm in an elite bullpen. His traditional stats are about as perfectly league average as you can get, as his 3.95 ERA gives you a perfect 100 ERA+. He walks more batters than you typically want your bullpen to (8.4 BB%, 10th worst among the 35 relievers with at least 40 innings pitched), but makes up for it with a high strikeout rate (26.4 K%, 15th highest) and by avoiding hard contact (33.3 hard hit percentage, ranked 15th). Moreover, he does a fairly decent job at keeping the ball on the ground (44.8 GB%, ranked 17th) and keeping the ball out of the air (35.2 FB%, ranked 18th).
Rather importantly, giving the fungible nature of relievers, Statcast gives no reason to expect his performance to come crashing down, either.
Armed with a four-seamer, a slider, and a sinker, Cishek utilizes a side-arm delivery, much like Chicago’s Scott Effross, whom Andrés covered late last week. Whereas he once was able to employ that as a strong weapon, utilizing a sinker/slider mix to great effect as a member of the Rays in 2017 and a sinker/slider/fastball mix with the Cubs in 2018 and 219, he has struggled to find any consistency with his pitches in recent years. Most notably, Statcast has found his sinker — the pitch he has thrown most often — to be below league average since the start of the 2020 season, while his best pitch this year, the slider, was decidedly below average in 2021.
Overall, the Yankees are probably looking to reel in a fish bigger than Steve Cishek even among relievers. It’s hard to argue against that, as it’s doubtful that he would slot into a high-leverage situation the same way that somebody like David Robertson might. That said, it’s important to have quality arms capable of not giving up runs in low-leverage situations, as that prevents high-leverage situations. And for that middle-inning role, Cishek might just fit the Yankees like a glove.