José Cisnero was a solid find for the Detroit Tigers.
We continue our series of Detroit Tigers 40-man roster previews with José Cisnero, a veteran reliever with a great story and an impressive arm.
The Detroit Tigers began their current rebuild in earnest in 2017, and for the next few years the club seemed to cycle through and endless number of former prospects, fringe big leaguers, and aging veterans looking for one last shot. Most passed through without much notice, while a scattered few offered decent production.
But now, with the rebuild over, just one reclamation projects remains: José Cisnero. And that’s pretty remarkable when we consider what it took for him to get here.
Who is José Cisnero?
José Cisnero signed his first pro contact with the Houston Astros in 2007, when he was just 18. He spent the next five years working as a starting pitcher, culminating in a strong 2012 season in which he went 13-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 148.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.
Despite his solid numbers, Cisnero often had trouble with walks, so he moved to the bullpen in 2013 and made his MLB debut that April. He held his own, posting a 4.12 ERA over 43.2 innings, but he saw just five outings for Houston the following year.
On May 6th, 2014, José Cisnero took the mound in the 7th inning against the Detroit Tigers in Comerica Park. He allowed two runs on back-to-back-to-back singles to Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter, and Miguel Cabrera, and a sacrifice fly from J.D. Martinez. Cisnero’s elbow didn’t feel right, and soon he required Tommy John surgery, which cost him the rest of 2014. It would be more than five years before Cisnero took the mound in another MLB game.
Houston released him after the 2014 season and he signed a minor-league deal with the Cincinnati Reds. But he was only able to pitch a few minor-league games for them in June before returning to the injured list for the rest of the season. The Arizona Diamondbacks brought him to camp in 2016, but released him the day before the regular season began. He then tried to catch on in the Mexican League and in independent ball, but he was cut both times.
For the next two years José Cisnero only pitched in the Venezuelan and Dominican Winter Leagues. The Detroit Tigers apparently liked what they saw from him in the Dominican, so they invited him to spring training in 2019. He was impressive in camp, and continued to pitch well in Toledo, so the Tigers called him up in June. Cisnero briefly returned to the minors, but was back up for good in late July.
His 2019 numbers were decent – a 4.33 ERA in 35.1 innings – and then he took a step forward in 2020, becoming the most effective reliever in Detroit’s bullpen. That success seemed to continue in the first half of 2021, with a 3.03 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 38.2 innings, but Cisnero struggled to miss bats down the stretch, and an ugly September (8ER in 4.1 IP) put a damper on an otherwise strong season.
José Cisnero is under team control for two more seasons, and he and the Detroit Tigers avoided arbitration this spring by agreeing to a one-year, $1.9-million deal.
José Cisnero’s Game
Cisnero has the arsenal of a classic power bullpen arm. He’s a fastball/slider pitcher, with both his 4-seam fastball and his sinker averaging more than 96 MPH, and flirting with triple digits in 2021. His 86-87MPH slider was his main strikeout weapon in 2020, but it firmed up slightly last year and wasn’t nearly as effective for him.
His strike throwing took a step back as fewer batters chased his slider, but he found a different path to success by increasing his sinker usage from just 4.6% in 2020 to 25.6% in 2021. Cisnero also throws the occasional low-90s changeup to left-handed batters, but it’s not a great offering for him.
2022 ZiPS Projections
Our take on José Cisnero
Relievers are awfully hard to predict, but we think Cisnero outperforms those ZiPS projections this year. From the start of 2020 until his final four outings of 2021 José Cisnero was a legitimately good reliever.
There’s no guarantee that success continues, of course, and he has just two innings so far in spring training, but Detroit’s bullpen looks a bit deeper this year than in the past, so A.J. Hinch might not have to lean on Cisnero as much in 2022.
We still think he’ll be a key middle reliever for the team, and he’ll probably get plenty of chances to work the 8th inning. And if things go south for Cisnero, he does have one minor-league option remaining, so Detroit could send him to Triple-A Toledo to get things back in order.