The Process Versus Brett Cecil | The Process Report

The Process Versus Brett Cecil

The Toronto Blue Jays drafted Brett Cecil with 38th overall in the 2007 draft. Primarily a closer at the University of Maryland, the Jays immediately converted him into a starting pitcher. However, after several seasons as failed starter, the left-hander is breaking out after a move back to the bullpen.

Cecil was inserted into the Jays’ rotation in May 2009, fewer than two years into his professional career. In 2010, he won 15 games; although other statistics suggest that number was a bit inflated. A career on the fast track to stardom was derailed in early 2011 when he was demoted to the minor leagues in an attempt to recover lost velocity and effectiveness. He returned to the big leagues in the summer, but the good results of the previous year did not follow.

Things were not any better in 2012. Cecil failed to make the team out of spring training and was given a choice to report to Triple-A Las Vegas or Double-A New Hampshire. Cecil chose the lower level as it presented a better environment to work through his issues. He would eventually be promoted to Las Vegas and soon after was recalled to the majors. Back with Toronto, his ERA hovered around 6.00 with a home-run rate too high for a borderline fly-ball pitcher. By September he was out of the rotation and in the bullpen for the first time since college.

Perhaps a procedural move more than anything, Cecil made the Jays’ 2013 opening day roster. Already out of options at age 26, he would have been subject to waivers had he not made the club. Whatever the real reason behind the decision, the move has paid off tremendously for both sides.

Cecil’s 1.38 ERA is currently third in the major leagues among left-handed relievers (minimum 20 innings pitched). He has 44 strikeouts to just eight unintentional walks in 39 innings of work. The home-run issues that plagued him in the past have yet to creep up this season as he has allowed just one ball to leave the yard in 142 batters faced.

The Maryland native arrived to Toronto stocked with low 90s fastball and a slider that served as his out pitch. In an attempt to expand his arsenal as a starter, the organization mandated he learn a changeup. He also had a slower breaking ball that he used as a fourth pitch. As Cecil’s performance dipped, so did his velocity. During the up-and-down between the majors and minors in 2011 and 2012, his fastball was routinely clocked in the upper-80s.

Now a full-time reliever, Cecil has regained the previously lost velocity. He credits a throwing program using a weighted ball introduced to him by teammate Steve Delabar for the added zip on his fastball. A smaller workload has likely helped as well. In addition to increased velocity on the heater, he has streamlined his pitch selection to match his new role.

These days, three quarters of Cecil’s pitches are comprised of fastballs and curveballs. The wipe-out slider is no longer the top secondary offering. In its place is the slower curveball. He also incorporates a cut-fastball that runs away from lefties and in on the hands of righties.

With the fastball back in the low-90s, and working arm-side and up, the curveball is doing the opposite. Thrown in the low-80s, Cecil’s hammer drops sharply glove-side and down. Opposing hitters have whiffed on 54 percent of swings taken on the pitch. It is no surprise that the hook is now his strikeout pitch of choice, finishing 27 of his 44 punchouts. It has also helped him combat the platoon split as right-handed batters have just two hits off hits against the curve with 12 strikeouts.

Aside from changes in velocity and selection, it appears as if Cecil has made some tweaks to his delivery as well. Take a look at the image below.

cecildelivery

The top image is Cecil in 2012 with the bottom taken from a game earlier this month. Cecil looks to be more balanced this season with a stiffer front leg as he begins his motion. As his hands break, you can see barely see his front shoulder now. Ready to fire, he holds the ball closer to his body in a more upright position. These adjustments may have aided in better fastball command.

cecilfastballs

As you can see, Cecil left a lot of balls over the plate last season. In 2013, he has an elevated target on his arm-side that he hits consistently.

Cecil has teamed up with Jays’ closer Casey Janssen to provide one of the more unlikely, yet extremely effective, one-two punches in the league. The lefty-righty duo have been instrumental in Toronto’s recent climb to contention. With Janssen slamming the door in the ninth, it will be up to Cecil to get the high-leverage outs in the seventh and eighth innings. Though he broke into the league as a 22-year old starter, he may have finally found himself as a 26-year old reliever.

Data & Images courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info.



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