Today’s Impact Index is a bit of a cheat. Our featured player is about to hit the big time due to the total ineffectiveness of one of his teammates. Pretty soon, he won’t be the middle reliever you’ve never heard of. And you can say you heard it here first.

Steve Cishek is a right-handed side-winder for the Miami Marlins. He made his major-league debut in 2010, pitching a few innings in relief. However, it wasn’t until the next season that he first made a real impact from the Marlins bullpen, throwing just under fifty-five innings. As we’ll see, some of those fifty-five innings were more adventurous than others.

The Marlins played an interleague series against the Mariners last season at Safeco Field in Seattle last year, with the Marlins were the “home team.” The Marlins’ ballpark, Sun Life Stadium, was hosting several U2 concerts, necessitating the change. Perhaps the oddity of playing a home game 3,000 miles from their ballpark caused some of the Marlins to lose their bearings. It certainly seems to have unbalanced Steve Cishek.

Cishek was on the mound in the top of the tenth inning, the scored tied 1-1. Dustin Ackley of the Mariners was on third base with one out. Marlins manager Jack McKeon ordered Cishek to intentionally walk Carlos Peguero to set up the possible double play. On the third pitch to Peguero, Cishek did this:

Ackley scored what proved to be the winning run, sending the Marlins to their twenty-second loss in June. Weird stuff.

Things got weird again for Cishek and the Marlins a few weeks ago during a game against the New York Mets. Josh Johnson was on the mound for the Fish, nursing a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs and the bases empty, Johnson walked Lucas Duda. Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen replaced Johnson with Randy Choate, who promptly walked the next batter, Justin Turner. Out went Choate, and in came Cishek, who walked Scott Hairston. Guillen pulled Cishek, put in Mike Dunn. Same result. Dunn walked Josh Thole, scoring Duda and tying the game. It was the first time in major-league history that four different pitchers walked four consecutive batters. The Marlins lost the game 2-to-1.

But things are looking up for Steve Cishek.

Over the winter, the Marlins signed Proven Closer Heath Bell to a three-year/$27 million contract. In fact, all that Bell has proven in the Marlins’ twenty-eight games this season is that Proven Closer is a silly and counterproductive concept. In eleven appearances, Bell has more blown saves (4) than saves (3) and is pitching his way out of a job.

Enter Steve Cishek.

Last Wednesday, the Marlins were in San Francisco, taking on the Giants. Miami limped into AT&T Park having lost eight of their last nine games. They won the series opener 3-to-2 and had a 2-to-0 lead in the ninth of game two. On came Bell for the save. Lead-off double for Brandon Belt. Run-scoring single for Joaquin Arias. Pinch-hit single for Buster Posey. First and third, no outs.

Out came Bell and in went Cishek. Gregor Blanco knocked in the tying run on a bunt single, but Cishek held the line there, sending the game to extra innings. In the tenth, Giancarlo Stanton hit a line-drive home run off Santiago Casilla to give the Marlins a 3-to-2 lead.  Cishek locked down the win with two strikeouts and a fly ball out to end the game. Cishek accumulated .251 in Win Probability Added in the game. Bell? -.556. (We explained Win Probability Added in the first Impact Index.)

The Marlins found themselves in another tight game two nights later in San Diego. Miami held an 8-to-7 lead in the bottom of the ninth. Proven Closer Heath Bell was in for the save. Back-to-back doubles by Jesus Guzman and Cameron Maybin tied the score. Two intentional walks and three outs later, the teams were headed to extras.

Cishek took the mound in the bottom of the tenth with the score still tied at 8. He then took the mound in the bottom of the eleventh with the score still tied at 8. The Marlins eeked out at run in the twelfth on a walk and a double, bringing Cishek back to the mound in the bottom of the inning to preserve the victory. He allowed one hit, but no runs, giving the Marlins a 9-to-8 win over the Padres. Cishek’s WPA for the game? .371. Heath Bell’s? -.347. 

The Marlins have since removed Bell from the role and made Cishek the interim closer. In thirteen appearances this season, Cishek’s allowed seven hits and six walks, recorded fifteen strikeouts, and given up one run. He has the third highest cumulative WPA among all National League relievers (1.00).

From goofy side-winder throwing a wild pitch on an intentional walk to the calm after the storm in the late innings for the Marlins.

Steve Cishek. Our Impact Index Player of the Week.