Mission ’13: Is Brett Cecil about to regress?

I have no problem nominating Brett Cecil as Blue Jay Pitcher of the Year right now. Not only are there few from which to choose—it’s a two-horse race, with Casey Janssen as the other candidate—but he’s so much better than he has been. I’ve mentioned his improvement, the results, and some of the reasons for his improvement regularly. He deserves it and, frankly, some of us need some good reports every now and then.

Brett Cecil’s dedication to the heavy ball conditioning and strengthening program introduced by Steve Delabar paid dividends. His K/9 is a career high 10.54 and his walk rate is a career low 2.63. This means his K/BB ratio is a cool 4.00. The greatest leap forward (or backward) this year has been in his home run rate. Prior to 2013, his home run rates were 1.64, 0.94, 1.60, and 1.61. This year it’s 0.33; he’s giving up a home run every 3 games.

The same sort of improvements occur almost across the board. His K% in the past was 16.4, 16.1, 16.4, and 18.9. This year it’s 30.2. (I’m having fun with this, so I’ll include a couple more categories.) His ERA- prior to this year was 118, 101, 115, and 139. This year it’s 47. His FIP- was 121, 96, 125, and 121. This year it’s 51.

There is cause for concern, though. Sure there’s concern simply because it’s a career year (unlike the 2012 Orioles ‘pen, he’s the only one having a career year), but there’s more to it than that. Brett Cecil is a bottom-of-the-‘pen guy, with Esmil Rogers, Ramon Ortiz, Dave Bush, Mickey Storey, et al. This means expectations are pretty low when any of these fellas come into the game. Brett Cecil has not only exceeded expectations, he’s blown them sky high. He’s pitched as if he’s their go-to lefty; not simply a LOOGY, but a guy who can get anyone out at any time. Ideally, the two best pitchers in the ‘pen are the closer and a pitcher who’s almost as effective as the closer but throws with the other hand. Casey Janssen is the closer; Brett Cecil is the ‘other-handed’ guy.

We have the inferences drawn from the way-better-than-the-rest-of-his-career numbers so far, but there’s also his velocity. Way back on April 23 when the Jays were playing poorly but there was more optimism than there is now, I showed the significant increase in velocity that Brett’s achieved. Here’s that table reproduced with his present velocity included:

vFA

vSI

vSL

vCU

vCH

2012

89.3

89.1

85.1

78.7

82.4

Early 2013

91.0

92.0

87.3

81.5

85.1

Now

90.5

91.4

85.5

81.5

84.2

This info was taken from: http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=2660&position=P

It’s likely that every pitcher’s velocity declines over the long haul of a full season, but the rate at which Brett Cecil’s velocity has declined is eye-opening. He’s down at least 0.5 mph on every pitch except his change up; his slider velocity is down considerably (1.8 mph).

The decline in velocity is a concern. Maintaining a healthy and regular gap between fastball velocity and change up velocity is crucial to getting ML hitters out regularly.

The Blue Jays have been consistently bad this season but they’re improving. Their recent improvement is a result of better hitting; the pitching is still pretty bad, meaning the ‘pen gets lots of work. Is Cecil tired? I wouldn’t doubt it.

Injuries are also a contributing factor. Darren Oliver is on the DL, meaning Cecil (24 G) and Loup (22 G) are getting the call more frequently. Since he remains effective and he has John Gibbons’ confidence, Cecil has a greater workload.

Maybe it’s a regression. Maybe it’s just normal peaks and valleys within the season. Here’s to hoping it’s the latter because Brett Cecil’s been solid in 2013. Let’s hope it continues.

Wes Kepstro

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