Blue Jays reliever, Brett Cecil, is an impending free agent. We look at his pitching and what it could mean at season’s end.
Baseball is back! With Spring Training out of the way, it’s finally time for the regular season. The Blue Jays early season gossip has been all about finding out where players fit within the pitching staff, and the constant discussion of the possible Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion contract extensions. One player, who silently isn’t in either of these conversations, is Brett Cecil. Cecil’s role remains to be the left handed, late inning reliever, but this year won’t just be another season for Cecil, because for the first time in his career, this is a contract year. At twenty-nine years old, Cecil is entering free agency in his prime years, and is expected to get a huge pay raise this season.
Last year, Cecil got off to a very slow start. With the Blue Jays parting ways with long time closer Casey Janssen, Cecil filled the closer role right out of Spring Training. He would struggle in his new role, losing his position to rookie Miguel Castro early in the season. Once Castro was sent down to the minors, Cecil resumed his role as closer, but yet again would struggle and lose the position to another rookie, Roberto Osuna. With poor play from Aaron Loup, the Blue Jays were running out of left handed options in the bullpen. Cecil, in the first half, pitched 29 innings, to a 4.66ERA, but in the second half, while inserted into his more regular eighth inning position, Cecil became nearly un-hittable.
Cecil did not allow a single batter to cross home plate for the entire second half! Not a one! When Cecil finally morphed into Sandy Koufax with glasses, he posted numbers good enough to finish with his best season to date, even better than his 2013 All-Star appearance. Ever since that 2013 season where Cecil entered in the bullpen full time, Cecil has posted very consistent year end numbers, but at the same time he’s has been very inconsistent. The 2015 season might be the most extreme case of the inconsistency, but Cecil’s volatility would make him struggle for stretches and then revert to be one of the best relievers in baseball – a pattern which isn’t new for him.
In the 2013 season, Cecil’s first half saw him break a Blue Jays record with 43 consecutive hitless batters faced, and his first appearance in the All-Star game. In the second half Cecil would be shut down due to elbow inflammation in mid Septemeber. According to John Lott’s National Post article, it didn’t bother Cecil until, “about a month ago after an outing in Houston.” That Houston appearance happened only four appearances after his All-Star appearance, but his struggles in those four outings were arguably his worst stretch of the season. Take it how you want, he might have been injured, he may have not, it’s hard to tell, but in that short time Cecil pitched two innings and allowed five earned runs.
In 2014, Cecil would pitch to his standards in the first half, pitching 29.1 innings, with a 3.68ERA walking 18 batters. In his second half, Cecil would become a lot more productive, pitching 24 innings, to a 1.50ERA, cutting his walks in half. Obviously, the splits are not as drastic as 2015, but the differences are still there.
It can be hard to tell what could possibly be the reason for these drastic changes. Going back through some video of Cecil pitching last season, there is one major difference in mechanics that could explain some of these numbers. A couple things first – the first photo is from May 4th (Cecil’s Struggle Period), the second from September 21st (Un-hittable Stage), and both photos are taken from Rogers Centre’s standard T.V. cameras so they are the same angle.
Left Photo May 4th Right Photo September 21
It doesn’t take much to figure out the differences between the two photos. Cecil’s arm is more hidden and closer to his body during his un-hittable stage. The difference was revealing, as I found different Cecil videos from the first half, they all had similar arm angles but were from different stadiums so I didn’t use them. In case you were wondering, one video was an earned run off a HBP, and the other a solo home run. Now I’m no pitching coach, and actually just a mediocre rec-league softball player, my knowledge of throwing a pitch is pretty minimal. So I went out to seek some help from someone who does. An ex-Blue Jays staffer when seeing the picture said,
“Think the first still is definitely a mechanical problem – not only showing hitters his grip, but also making it more difficult to get on top of his curveball, which is clearly his best pitch. When you’re more in line with home plate, like in the 2nd one, your arm doesn’t have as long of a path to get on top, especially a guy like Cecil who throws a 12-6 curve. You hear pitchers talk about the ability to repeat their deliveries all the time. Maybe inability to repeat his deliver at times is why Cecil struggles for part of the year.”
The other major difference for Cecil throughout the season, was his approach to the plate. As you can see by the pitch usage graph provided by Brooks Baseball.
In the first three months of the season, Cecil was predominately a Fourseam, Curveball, and Cutter pitcher. In the month of May, Cecil threw mostly fastballs (34.59%) which is very different from what we usually see out of him. Those first three months is where we saw Cecil post that 4.66ERA, once July came around Cecil was pitching completely different.
|Net Change (First Half vs. Second)||54.1||-9.4||+9.95||-5.49||+6.55||-1.91|
Cecil, from first half to second half, completely changed which pitches he predominately threw. The drastic changes were when he almost replaced his Fourseam for his Sinker, and increasing the usage of his Curve (His best pitch wCU 9.3 in 2015) to the point that in September he threw it 50% of the time. Pitchers can become known for certain pitches, Clayton Kershaw’s curveball or Marco Estrada’s Changeup are consistently their best pitch year in year out. Going back to previous seasons, it seems like Cecil struggles trusting some of his best pitches, as throughout the year his go to pitches can change month to month. In 2013, Cecil was all over the map with which pitches he trusted the most, in June (arguably his best month of the season), Cecil used his Curve 41.83% of the time, but mixed in his other pitches evenly working different pitches around his curve, this led to a 0.71ERA in 12.2IP. In 2014 his most “consistent” season, his curveball remained steadily his main pitch all throughout the season, leading to his most consistent season to date. The mechanical changes, mixed in with the different usage of pitches, might be part of the reason why Cecil had such drastic differences in his season this year.
It will be interesting to see how Ross Atkins wants to construct his bullpen compared to the previous management regime. In the 2015 season, the Blue Jays had never made the bullpen a huge investment. This season the Blue Jays will rank 17th in the MLB in bullpen dollars spent, paying 8 big league relievers $17 million, 12.34% of their entire payroll. Compare this to a team like the Houston Astros, who’s Opening Day payroll is ranked 24th, yet the Astros pay their relievers just over $20 million, almost a quarter of their entire payroll.
In the recent offseason, Cecil and the Blue Jays avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one year $3.8 million dollar contract. Next season, it will be interesting to see what kind of money Cecil will get on the open market. Judging by what other players similar to Cecil got, it seems like a 2yr/$13mil contact would seem like a realistic scenario. With relief pitchers like Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon hitting free agency next season, the relief market will see a lot of money thrown around, and with teams looking to stay competitive within their division, it wouldn’t be surprising if Cecil got offered a lot more than expected. All this will come down to how Cecil plays, finally nailing both halves, and remaining healthy throughout the season, these variables will be make or break for Cecil’s first big pay day.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER: CC BY-SA 2.0
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Spencer Redmond is a Graduate of the University of Wisconsin. His loves in life are the NBA, MLB, Stats, and his dog Parker.