Brett Cecil, ready for duty

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Throughout the off-season, Jays fans debated and queried over who would take on the closer’s role as incumbent Casey Janssen departed for the Washington Nationals. Names were tossed around like Aaron Sanchez and Brett Cecil before John Gibbons announced last week that the ailing Cecil was to be the Jays closer this season.

Realistically, what other options did they have? Aaron Loup, Todd Redmond or Marco Estrada? ERRRR. Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna are options I suppose, but not the most reliable given neither has pitched an official inning above high-A. Finally with Sanchez likely to be a part of the starting rotation, the Jays elected to give Cecil the ball with the game on the line throughout this season.

All things considered, the Jays made the right decision. Ignoring the lack of alternative options, Cecil has the real chance to become a bonafide closer much like his predecessor Janssen.

Quantitatively, this is fairly easy to substantiate as well. The important point to analyze for closers is obviously how they do in high pressure situations, or situations where a save is on the line.

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Starting with high leverage situations, Cecil appears to get better as the pressure or leverage increases. While Janssen is more of a strikeout pitcher than Cecil to begin with, Cecil appears to increase K/BB ratio as the pressure increases while Janssen’s falls substantially.

Obviously the merits in maintaining control throughout pressure is key for any pitcher, but this skill is exponentially more valuable coming from a closers role.

The second aspect that demonstrates Cecil’s readiness is his performance in line with Janssen in the 9th inning of the games, Cecil’s destined work station for 2015.

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Before anyone claims Cecil is a spitting image of Janssen it’s important to understand Cecil’s success could be effected by a small sample size. At only 22.2 innings, it’s hard to make any substantive claims to the validity of the data.

With that said, the initial numbers are fairly encouraging. Janssen was still a little bit better in terms of ERA and had a little better strikeout to walk ratio but Cecil was not far behind.

Additionally, Cecil’s .328 BABIP in the sample demonstrates the likelihood of him actually being better than his 2.78 ERA suggests.

Lastly, and potentially most important, is the comparison of the two in, “clutch” situations where the game is within one, two or three runs during their appearance. Essentially, it’s your typical save situation.

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Again, this study compares the two in control (K/BB) during the given situations and again it is evident that Janssen’s strikeout to walk ratio is much higher than Cecil’s.

One thing that Cecil has going for him however is consistency. As expected, both Cecil and Janssen become less effective as the score becomes closer and closer. That’s what anyone would hypothesize. But Janssen regresses much faster and further than Cecil in the sample covering a three-run versus one-run lead.

In that span, Janssen regresses 0.52 K/BB while Cecil loses only 0.13 of his K/BB ratio. What that means is that, although Cecil isn’t as efficient as Janssen in his strikeout rate, Cecil also is far more consistent and isn’t nearly as hit-or-miss. Essentially, the Jays know what they’re getting in Cecil.

So what’s does this mean? It means Cecil should be at least serviceable in the closer’s role this season despite some saying he’s not ready for the job.

Different from Janssen, Cecil will rely on his curveball-fastball arsenal to get hitters out, inducing ground balls at a more prevalent rate than his 2014 level of 53.8 per cent. Fangraphs projects the Jays new closer to pitch 65 innings with a 3.29 ERA and a 0.8 WAR, down from a 1.1 WAR performance last season.

That’s far from ground breaking but it’s also better than what they Jays received from Janssen last season. If Cecil is able to retain last year’s strikeout ability, while bringing his walk rate to 2013 levels, it should good season for the young pitcher.

Even if he doesn’t, Brett Cecil is ready for this challenge. Whether it’s ready for him is another story.