What Do We Make of Jose Cisnero?


High-A Lancaster, an Astros affiliate, is known as probably the most hitter-friendly environment in all of professional baseball. It’s no surprise, then, that those who play for the JetHawks get an implied asterisk on their statistics, much like the way we naturally think “Oh, it’s Coors Field” for Colorado Rockies players.

JetHawks pitcher Jose Cisnero seems like a good example of what Lancaster can do to a pitcher’s statistics. He’s struck out 119 batters in 96 innings, and yet, his ERA sits at 6.09. Cisnero’s FIP for the season is 3.70, so that statistic suggests that he’s basically a victim of a bad park and bad luck.

Is that really the case here, though?

The strikeouts are the big number that show up on Cisnero’s statline, but there’s some more weirdness going on. First of all, he’s walked 59 guys in 96 innings, which is bad. Certainly, his high strikeout total helps him get away with it, but putting 65 batters on base in four months (he also has six HBPs) via the free pass is going to put any pitcher in lots of jams.

The stranger thing about Cisnero’s statistics is that there’s nothing in them that one can look at and say “Oh, this is just park effects. He’s not a groundball pitcher, but he’s just allowed seven home runs. His BABIP of .333 is elevated, but not ridiculously so, and he’s allowed under a hit per inning on the season. Perhaps one could adjust his ERA down half a run or so for BABIP reasons, but it certainly doesn’t explain the 2.32 difference between his ERA and FIP.

No, that can be explained with one number–58%. That’s the percent of runners on base Cisnero has stranded this year. In sabermetric circles, strand rate is thought to be a product of luck, and most pitchers are supposed to wind up with strand rates between 68 and 76 percent.

Cisnero’s strand rates did fall into that range in his previous two seasons, so it’s possible that he’s just getting bad luck and the park is playing a role. But then again, let’s not forget that the more baserunners one puts on, the lower a percentage one can expect to strand. This is for two reasons. First, the fewer baserunners a pitcher allows, the more successful they are at getting outs, which means that they’re more likely to get any given out (including situations with men on base, all else equal). Second, the fewer baserunners a pitcher allows, the less likely those baserunners are to make it into scoring position.

Since Cisnero basically spots opposing teams four baserunners per start without them even making contact with the ball, it’s possible that his “true talent strand rate” is lower than the traditional range. It certainly isn’t 58%, and playing in an unforgiving park isn’t going to help when you’re in a jam, but the walks are enough of an issue to raise some serious concerns about the validity of his FIP.

That said, the righthander’s strikeout rate is very impressive, and he’s just 22 years old and projectable. If he can’t throw more strikes, he’ll probably need to move to relief at some point, but Cisnero is definitely a prospect to watch in the Houston system. When he goes to Double-A next year, his performance should help put this season’s in better context.

For more on the Astros, check out Climbing Tal’s Hill.

Tags: Houston Astros Jose Cisnero Lancaster JetHawks