For the third season in-a-row, Leo Nunez has successfully saved games for the Florida Marlins. Even though being a relatively consistent closer isn’t exactly the easiest asset to come by, Nunez, who could make as much as $6.5 million through arbitration in the off-season, will still most likely get cut loose. How so? Because the Marlins have the talented Steve Cishek making league minimum.
Despite collecting 33 saves this season (and 89 total since 2009), Nunez’s underlying statistics are pretty replaceable, and are, at best, on-par with Cishek’s. Nunez has posted a 4.40 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 2.94 K/BB in 2011, but has also gotten a little lucky (.288 BABIP), while completely losing his ability to get groundballs (from 54% last season to 31.4%) and letting up a few too many homeruns (9.0%). In comparison, Cishek has hurled a 3.18 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 3.13 K/BB, with a very sustainable .310 BABIP, supportive 3.15 xFIP, and elite groundball (52%) and HR/FB (2.7%) rates.
Unlike Cishek, who’s fastball and slider are both well above average, Nunez only has one pitch (change-up) that stands out, but throws it just 28.4% of the time. In fact, Nunez throws his fastball 62.3% of the time, but it’s only been worth -1.4 runs above average. While Chisek’s fastball and slider aren’t on-par with, say Jonny Venters, they’re still worth a very respectable 2.9 and 3.8 runs above average, respectively. That’s something Leo Nunez simply does not possess.
The only real red flag for Cishek is that he didn’t completely dominate in the Minor Leagues. In 254 career innings, the righty owns a 3.40 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 2.10 K/BB. The reliever’s career 8.2 K/9 is closer-worthy, but his 3.9 BB/9 is a bit troublesome. Interestingly enough, Cishek hasn’t endured control issues in the Major Leagues, sporting a solid 2.98 BB/9, and he’s also striking out batters at a better rate (9.33 K/9) than he was in the Minors. Regardless of the differences, it’s still a risk worth taking for the Marlins.
In an ideal world, the Marlins would retain Nunez with his inflated arbitration price-tag, but considering Hanley Ramirez , Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and John Buck will combined see a $14.5 million spike (and Anibal Sanchez will get a hefty raise from his current $3.7 million), the Marlins will be forced to trim the fat. Luckily for the Marlins, $6.5 million for a closer isn’t much for most other teams out there, so they will have no problem finding a trade partner. And just like in 2009 when they handed the “keys” to the inexperienced Nunez, giving 25 year-old Steve Cishek the closing gig next season will be an exciting, and rewarding experience.