Hip to Be Scared: Steve Cishek’s Labrum Issues Inspire Both Fear, Hope

Sidewinding righty Steve Cishek may not fit the Cubs’ MO of acquiring pitchers with at least one Tommy John surgery on their medical record, but he’s got some injury issues of his own that may be related to his throwing motion. Rather than the high-end velocity known to put stress on other pitchers’ elbows, it could be Cishek’s low release point that has caused his hip problems.

Or, more accurately, the newest Cub’s torn left labrum may have been caused by the way he lands when following through on that super-low delivery. The inimitable Eno Sarris concluded as much in a piece on sidearmers and hip problems, and, while there’s little actual data on the subject, even a rudimentary understanding of physiology can lead us to confirm the hypothesis.

Just look at the GIF above and note the angle of Cishek’s torso, how it gets almost parallel to the ground. Also note how straight his leg is when he lands, offering little means by which to absorb the force generated by his delivery. Between that and getting his right arm way out there to the side, Cishek is creating a tremendous amount of impact and rotational force on his landing leg. His left leg.

I’m sure you understand by now where I’m going with this, which is that the hip provides a faulty fulcrum for all that torque. Sure enough, it appears to have finally caught up with Cishek in 2016. He went on the DL in early August of that season and wasn’t activated until mid-May of 2017, getting off to a slow start once he came back.

Though it was only based on 20 innings of work, Cishek’s 4.81 FIP and 2.14 K/BB ratio were far worse than his career marks. After a trade to Tampa Bay, however, the low-slung slinger posted a 2.14 FIP and 3.71 K/BB over 24.2 innings. To what can we attribute the marked improvement?

Perhaps it was being paired with pitching coach Jim Hickey, a man whose tutelage Cishek will once again be under in Chicago. Or maybe the reliever was able to tweak his mechanics to produce better results. Whatever the reasons, there’s both fear and hope in that funky wind-and-fire we’ll be seeing toward the back end of the Cubs bullpen over the next two seasons.

If Cishek can stay healthy and put up anything close to the numbers the Rays got from him, he’ll be a huge asset to the Cubs. That’s the hope. But age (32 in June), recent injury history, and mechanics that could cause further problems don’t exactly inspire confidence. That’s the fear.

Which wins out? We’ll just have to wait and see, though I’m feeling pretty good about this pickup.

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