Astros News

Astros sign reliever Steve Cishek to minor league deal

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - AUGUST 11: Steve Cishek #31 of the Chicago White Sox throws a ninth inning pitch while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on August 11, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - AUGUST 11: Steve Cishek #31 of the Chicago White Sox throws a ninth inning pitch while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on August 11, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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The Houston Astros have signed veteran reliever Steve Cishek.

The Houston Astros have added further depth to their bullpen by inking veteran right-hander Steve Cishek to a minor league deal, as Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle first reported. He will get an invitation to Spring Training and thus will have a chance to earn a spot in the bullpen, and if he does make the team, he’ll earn a base salary of $2.25 million plus $1.5 million in incentives.

Cishek, 34, has pitched for six different teams in his 11-year MLB career and owns a lifetime 2.78 ERA in 594 appearances. He also has some closing experience, tallying 132 saves. He’s done well at limiting hits and home runs in his career and has a healthy 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The reason he comes on a minor league deal is he had his first poor season in 2020, pitching to a 5.40 ERA in 22 appearances for the White Sox. His strikeout rate was in line with his career marks, but he suffered from inflated hit and home run rates. But he’s coming off a two-season run with the Cubs in which he posted a 2.55 ERA in 150 appearances, so there’s reason to believe 2020 could just be a blip on the radar.

Pitcher Profile

Cishek doesn’t throw particularly hard, as his fastball averages only around 90 mph, and his spin rates aren’t too impressive either. He gets outs with a funky sidearm delivery and throwing mostly sinkers and sliders, with the occasional four-seamer and changeup mixed in. His slider has been his most effective pitch, and his four-seamer has worked quite well in its limited use.

The primary culprit in his rough 2020 appears to be the sinker, as batters hit .395 and slugged .789 against it, which are by far the worst marks of his career. That likely resulted in his ground ball rate (32.2 percent) being far lower than his career mark (48 percent). His flyball and line drive rates also jumped as a result. When he’s on, he keeps the ball on the ground at an above-average rate.

Unsurprisingly, he’s been more effective against right-handed hitters in his career, holding them to just a .571 OPS. He’s been solid against lefties too, though, holding them to a .691 OPS. For some reason, however, righties teed off to the tune of a 1.013 OPS against him in 2020. It was a weird season, to be sure, and that odd stat will have to change in 2021.

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Expected Role

While Cishek does have closing experience, he hasn’t posted a double-digit save total since 2016 when he saved 25 games for the Mariners. If he does make the team, I would anticipate him being used in more of a middle relief or setup role, similar to fellow sidearmer Joe Smith. If he can look more like himself, he can be an effective weapon in key situations.

I would expect Ryan Pressly to be the closer to begin the season, but he didn’t exactly look like a lockdown guy in 2020. Should Pressly falter, Dusty Baker will probably want to turn to a more experienced pitcher in the ninth inning rather than handing the job to youngster Enoli Paredes. In that situation, Cishek would be an obvious candidate if he’s pitching well.

He’s not guaranteed a roster spot by any means, but he does have a legitimate chance to make the club. Cishek’s signing does come as the third former Tampa Bay Ray signing by James Click this offseason. The Astros bullpen picture is a little more crowded than it was last year with the additions of Pedro Baez, Ryne Stanek and now Cishek, so it should be an interesting battle in Spring Training to see who makes the team.

Next. Houston Astros: Release struggling minor league prospects. dark

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