Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Is the Bullpen the Place for Brett Cecil?

When Brett Cecil was called back up to the Blue Jays a few days ago, Jays Manager John Farrell placed him in the bullpen to be part of the Relief corps. Cecil made his 1st appearance as a Relief Pitcher for the Jays on Monday, pitching 2 innings allowing 3 hits,2 walks, and 1 earned run. Looking at that line you assume he pitched very badly, but his outing was actually very promising. His fastball velocity was up(a product of being in the bullpen), and his slider, as always, was nasty against lefties. Cecil came into ST this season a lot lighter than last season, 32 pounds lighter! This was part of an effort to regain his lost velocity that went missing in 2011. It did nothing, and Cecil was in the same situation as 2011, just he was in better shape. Brett made 9 starts earlier this season filling in for one of the injured spots in the rotation. He wasn't so bad(minus 2 horrible starts on June 23rd and July 8th), but was sent down a few weeks ago when his fill-in services were no longer needed.

The question with Brett over the past couple of seasons has been;Is Brett Cecil best suited in the rotation, or is he better off in the bullpen?

There are obviously 2 sides to this debate, and I think the Blue Jays are finally realizing that he could be a very dominant reliever.
Reasons why Brett should be a Reliever
Brett, like a lot of lefties, is a lefty killer! Left handers are hitting just .189 against him this season, and only .231 lifetime. He can be used as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen, and would be very dominant. A switch to being a reliever at this stage in Brett's career would be similar to what fellow teammate Darren Oliver did earlier on in his long career. Darren suffered through 12 full horrific years of starting before finally switching to being a reliever in 2004. Ever since then he has been one of the best in the game, and has been able to extend his career because of it. Of course Darren switched much later on in his career than where Brett is right now, but it might not be such a bad idea.

As I mentioned earlier, Brett lost 2-3 MPH on his fastball last season, and has not gained them back.  He went from throwing 91-92 in 2010, to 87-89 this season and in 2011.  Those numbers are when starting, as on Monday, when he was relieving, he averaged 90.92 MPH, but hit 92 multiple times.When he was drafted, as a closer, Brett was throwing 94-95 MPH. So, we can assume that if Brett does regain that lost velocity, he could be throwing around 94 MPH consistently out of the bullpen. Is a reliever who is lights out against lefties, has a hard fastball, and a nasty slider more valuable than what Cecil could be as a starter?

How Brett can get back to being a solid #4 Starter
Obviously, the easiest way for Brett to get back to being a good back of the rotation pitcher is by regaining his velocity. But how could he do that? It is most likely pretty simple. Brett lost all of that weight last off-season in a very short period of time. His arm was not going to get stronger from him getting "weaker".  If Brett is able to add some muscle to his new thin body, he might be able to get that extra zip on his fastball again. If he can sit over 90 MPH again, he doesn't need to rely completely on control. He would be able to leave a ball over the plate without knowing that it will get crushed. Right now, when he leaves a 86 or 87 MPH fastball down the heart of the plate, it is not coming back. Another factor that has to do with velocity is his GB%. In 2010, batters were hitting the ball on the ground almost 45% of the time against Cecil. This season they are putting it on the ground at a rate of 34%.  That's a huge factor that has led to his HR/9 rate go up by .20. Putting on that extra muscle to compliment his new body could get Cecil throwing hard again, and back to how he was in 2010, or even better.

I feel like this article was all over the place, so I'll just summarize my points.
1. Cecil's lefty splits would make him a great specialist out of the bullpen.
2. Cecil's increased velocity as a reliever makes him more effective in that role.

1. Brett can gain that velocity back if he puts on muscle this off-season to compliment all the weight he lost last winter. This would get him back up to 91-92 when starting, and he would be a good back end starter.
2. With that increased velocity would come less home runs(which has been Cecil's kryptonite this season), and more ground ball outs.

Where do you prefer Brett? If he doesn't regain his past velocity, would you still want him there? Leave your comments below with your opinion.

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  1. Bullpen, we have better options to start

  2. Bullpen for sure. Use his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. The Darren Oliver analogue is apt. I think Cecil could thrive in a late inning role (late inning pressure isn't anything new to him, as a guy who was brought up as a closer). He'd have to prove himself this year and probably next year before he could earn the title of reliable setup guy, but he appears now to have the competitive juices flowing and just enough control and added velocity to make good things happen out of the pen. My only concerns are: (1) whether he'll be able to fool right handed hitters well enough to log 50+ IP/yr to avoid LOOGY status, and (2) the team's depth at starting pitcher. Cecil probably needs to be kept away from starting games to keep his focus on steadily honing his relief craft. It might throw him off track if he's asked to start a few games during the year. I'm wondering how many other starters your GM treats as being ahead of Cecil on the organization-wide depth chart?

    1. The shipped has sailed on Cecil as a starter, so it would take a whole lot of injuries before he's called upon to act as a starter once again. Right now, there are around 10 guys ahead of him on the depth chart for a starting role, so he's safe in the bullpen.