After erratic season, Cishek faces decision about future

PLAYER REVIEW: STEVE CISHEK

Age on opening day 2023: 36

How acquired: Signed as free agent, March 2022

MLB service time: 11 years, 143 days

2022 salary: $1.75 million

Contract status: Free agent

2022 stats: 1-4, 4.21 ERA, 69 G, 1 SV, 66 1/3 IP, 54 H, 33 R, 31 ER, 11 HR, 27 BB, 74 SO, 13 HBP, 1.221 WHIP, 93 ERA+, 4.85 FIP, -0.3 fWAR, 0.3 bWAR

Quotable: “I was hoping when I signed that we’d be playing a lot better than we are now. And if that wasn’t the case, then I’d hopefully be pitching well enough to be traded at the deadline. I knew that could have been a possibility. But regardless, I knew I was gonna be content with whatever happened. Still enjoy being here, working with the young guys, and playing this game that I’m blessed to play.” – Steve Cishek

2022 analysis: The Nationals signed Steve Cishek in spring training, believing the veteran reliever would provide some stability at the back of their bullpen and bring back a prospect from a contender at the trade deadline. Neither proved to come true.

Cishek’s debut, in which he hit the Mets’ Francisco Lindor on his second pitch and was ejected after benches emptied, perhaps foretold what was to come. When his command was on, the sidewinding right-hander was effective. But when he was off, it got ugly.

Cishek has always been somewhat better against righties than lefties, but the disparity was vast this year: Right-handed batters hit just .194 with a .590 OPS against him, while lefties hit .281 with a whopping .935 OPS. An astounding 23 percent of all left-handed batters who faced him (23-of-104) wound up homering, drawing a walk or getting hit by a pitch.

All told, Cishek plunked 13 batters this season, tied for sixth-most in the majors even though everyone else with that many or more totaled at least 103 innings to his 66 1/3 innings out of the bullpen. So when the Aug. 2 trade deadline arrived and there was little interest from others, the Nats wound up keeping him through the remainder of a disappointing season.

2023 outlook: Cishek was never supposed to be a long-term addition. The Nationals really hoped to get four good months out of him and then acquire a long-term piece in exchange for him. Obviously, that didn’t happen, so now he’s a free agent trying to decide what the future holds in store for him.

A veteran of nearly 12 big league seasons, Cishek has done it all in his career. He closed in Miami and Seattle, totaling 133 saves. He made his one and only postseason appearance in 2018 for the Cubs. He’s made at least 59 appearances in all but two of the last 11 seasons (and he still pitched in 22-of-60 games for the White Sox during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign).

Cishek wasn’t ready to make any pronouncements about his future at season’s end. He planned to head home and discuss matters with his family. But if he decides to retire, he’ll do so with no regrets, having established himself as one of the most reliably effective relievers of the last decade, even if his one season in Washington didn’t go as well as everyone hoped.

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