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Blue Jays 2015 Year in Review: Brett Cecil

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It can be said that fans of the Toronto Blue Jays may not have appreciated the value of Brett Cecil until he went down in the 2015 ALDS. That might be because he really hadn’t settled in to the role that suited him. Once a starter, then a middle reliever, then a closer, then a set up guy, then a lefty specialist. When the 2015 season began, it wasn’t exactly clear what role Cecil would fill. After struggling a bit to start 2015, he settled into a groove and put forth a great season.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Really, Cecil’s 2015 season is the tale of two seasons. His first half saw an ERA of 4.66. In 29 innings, he’d give up 15 hits and 11 walks, not to mention 4 home runs. Batters were hitting .246 against him and slugging .418. He wasn’t fooling anyone. He was striking out nearly 27% and walking 9%. When being asked to take on the closer’s role to start the season, this was not what the Blue Jays envisioned from him.

His second half produced almost a completely different pitcher. Actually, he was the same pitcher, but had managed to gain control of his repertoire and use it to his advantage. Keegan Matheson highlighted some notable changes in Brett Cecil form 1st half to 2nd half in 2015 a while back. Essentially, his fastball was more effective, which led to better pitcher’s counts from which he can drop that deadly hammer of a curveball.

The results? A 2nd half ERA of 0.00. He struck out 37 batters in 25.1 innings and walked just two (TWO!) in the entire second half. Batters hit just .135 with a SLG of just .170. Talk about night and day! His second half was what helped make the Blue Jays confident in their bullpen as they entered the postseason. His injury and removal form the roster only served to highlight just how valuable he’d been to the club.

The Good:

Cecil has become one of the best relievers in baseball. He’s slid into a role in the Blue Jays bullpen that is perfect for him. It is kind of a role that has no definition. He’s not the closer. He’s not the set up guy. He’s not even the lefty specialist, though many would see him that way. His numbers against lefties and righties are fairly similar: LHB: .195/.253/.286 RHB: .197/.254/.322. If anything, he’s given up 5 more walks to right handed batters.  He’s the guy the club can go to when they need an out. It’s almost perfect.

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The improvement of his cutter has benefitted him greatly. According to Fangraphs.com, the weighted value of his cutter jumped from -3.5 in 2014 to 1.8 this season. His curveball held it’s great value at 9.1! In fact, all of his offerings had positive values this season. It is certainly the type of performance that has us looking forward to next season.

The Bad:

With the success that Cecil found in the second half, it could be very tempting to try and move him into another role. We know that Aaron Sanchez and/or Roberto Osuna could very well be considered for the starting rotation. That would create a gaping hole at the back end of the bullpen. Given his performance, it could be enticing to try Cecil as a solution there.

That experiment was tried at the beginning of the season. Here’s the thing: when you look at Cecil in different leverage situations, you get mixed results. In high leverage situations, Cecil left 42.9% on base. In medium leverage, it was 80.4%. In low, it was 94.8%. The surface take way from this is the higher the leveraged situation, the more runners come in to score.

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With runners in scoring position, Cecil’s LOB rate is just 21.4% whereas the rate is 100% with the bases empty. Perhaps the takeaway from this is that if the Blue Jays are going to consider him for a closer or set up role, they may need to choose the situations more judiciously. The above would indicate that he should enter an inning clean and in less “tight” situations.

Of course, the caveat to all of that is that when you break down the “leverage”, you get very small sample sizes for a bullpen arm. For example, his “high leverage” innings only total 10. That is not exactly enough to really say that Cecil has not been good enough in those situations.

The Future:

And, there in lies the problem. The Blue Jays do not know exactly what to do with Brett Cecil at this point. He has turned the corner in 2015. When once we did not have faith in him as a closer, we may now be singing a different tune. Again, his removal from the bullpen in October highlighted just how valuable he is. The club will have to decide what they are going to do with the back end of the bullpen and where Cecil fits into it all.

Next: Do Pirates & Blue Jays Matchup in a Trade for Relievers?

Does he have the stuff to close? Absolutely. Would he thrive there? That is less certain. The good news is that he ill be with the club in 2016 in whichever capacity. He is in the final year of arbitration. MLBTR predicts he’ll see $3.4M in 2016. That is certainly a reasonable price to pay for the kind of consistency his 2nd half provided. The question is whether he can produce that in 2016. He’ll be a free agent after that. It might be a good time for him to build on his success.

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