The Miami Marlins, who signed closer Heath Bell to a three year, $27 million deal this offseason, have removed Bell from the closer’s role due to repeated struggles. Bell has already blown four saves this season. Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is thinking that he’ll replace Bell at the back of the game with Steve Cishek.
The struggles from the 34 year-old Bell this year are pretty much the antithesis of why you don’t give relievers large contracts. Bell has been an absolute disaster in South Beach this season, only saving three games (while blowing four) in seven chances. Bell has thrown 8 2/3 innings on the season, has walked ten, and struck out just six. While he’s not as bad as his 11.42 ERA indiciates, his 6.88 FIP and 7.74 xFIP don’t tell the tale of a pitcher who is just getting screwed over by awful luck.
While Bell’s velocity is down so far this year, it’s not alarmingly down (shy of one mile per hour). Bell’s main problem appears to be location, as he’s only getting swings on 18.4% of pitches he’s thrown outside of the strike zone, in comparison to 30.7% last year and 29.4% over his career. Another thing that’s plaguing Bell is what’s happening when hitters make contact. He’s allowing a near career low 14.7% line drive rate, but 44.1% flyball rate is more than 10% higher than his career rate. More flyballs = more balls going into the gap and over the fence. The career low 41.2% groundball rate also indicates that there are issues with Bell’s command.
As for Cishek, he’s an impressive looking young pitcher. Over his brief major league career, he’s struck out 73 batters in 73 1/3 innings. This season, he’s struck out 15 in 14 1/3. Walks aren’t a huge problem for him, as he’s walked 26 over his career and six this year. Cishek has also allowed just one home run in his career (coming last season), and is a ground ball machine, with a career rate of 55.8% and a 54.8% mark this year. He doesn’t throw as hard as Bell, with a fastball clocking in at just 91.7 mph this year.
While Guillen says the move from Bell to Cishek is probably just temporary while Bell gets comfortable, I think it could benefit the Marlins long-term to keep Cishek in the role, because I think he’s got some really good potential. On the other hand, Cishek isn’t getting paid $27 million over three seasons. The Marlins will stubbornly keep going to Bell in the closer’s role long-tern, even if he isn’t the best choice for the role. We’ve seen it happen time and time again (think the Reds with Francisco Cordero over the last four yeasr), and there is going to be no exception this time around in Miami.
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