Blue Jays Debate: A Brett Cecil Extension

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Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Blue Jays’ Brett Cecil Extension: Statistically

Mat Germain – 

Brett Cecil’s Last 3 Regular Seasons Statistics

Of note is the fact that his 2013 season was strong enough to earn him an All-Star game appearance. Overall, things to take note of include the track record of steady dominance while working in the pen over the last 3 seasons. Other notes include the drop in walks and whip in 2015, the increase in SO9, and the increase in GF over time which has helped him become more experienced in the role in 2015.

To get a better feel for his 2015 season and how it wound up, we’ll compare it directly to one of the league’s best closers who is incidentally on the trade market, Aroldis Chapman.

Brett Cecil’s Stats for 2015

Aroldis Chapman’s Stats for 2015

I wanted to continue the statistical analysis by comparing Cecil to one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. Things to consider when comparing these are the fact that Chapman was closing all year, while Cecil wasn’t, and that Cecil pitchers in the tougher hitting league.

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There are a few things I want to point out here even if I believe they are fairly obvious. First, Brett Cecil was the most dominant relief pitcher in the MLB over the final 28 days of the season. No other reliever came close to his 22 Ks in only 10.2 IP while only allowing 4 hits, no ER or walks, and no HRs. His 0.375 Whip stands for itself and all of this while he faced 2 more batters than Chapman. The latter’s stats look great, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to paint a picture of just how dominant and overpowering Cecil was in 2015, and particularly to end the season.

Chapman is headed to the free agent market at the same time as Cecil, for 2017 and beyond, and will compete with him for the big bucks. If the Jays let that happen, there’s no telling how many teams that miss out on Chapman which will target Cecil soon after, but I’d hazard a guess that it’s the vast majority of those looking to improve their pens.

Next, we look at a fellow another dominant relief pitcher who isn’t a closer, Darren O’Day. He may be a better comparison since he didn’t close and pitched in the American League.

Darren O’Day Stats

The reason I’m showing you the last 7 seasons of O’Day’s career is to compare it to Cecil’s 3 past seasons (ages 26-28) and to indicate how a reliever can perform from ages 29 onwards. That’s important to know since the investment will be substantial in both years and money if the Jays extend Cecil.

From 2012 to 2015, there may not have been a more dominant middle-reliever than O’Day, there’s no denying the longevity of his dominance. However, over the last 3 seasons, Cecil has been going toe-to-toe with him on a fairly even level, particularly in 2015. Cecil allowed 1 less walk, 1 less HR, had 0.3 more SO9 and came only a little short on ERA and Whip. And that’s despite only being 28 years old, which if we look at O’Day’s stats is something we can expect to continue for at least another 4-5 years.

In short, statistically speaking, Brett Cecil is well worth a major investment going forward based on what he’s capable of and what he’s accomplished thus far. He’s proven it over 3 years, and we can expect it to continue for the foreseeable future.

Jim Scott – 

I agree completely with Mat that Brett has pitched brilliantly over the last three years. Where I am less confident, however, is whether “we can expect it to continue for the foreseeable future”. The key with an extension is of course not the player’s prior performance but their expected performance over the new contract.

Brett will turn 30 years old in the 2016 season.  So a three-year extension would cover his age 31-34 years. The unfortunate reality is that most relievers- even good ones- experience a significant decline in performance in their 30s. In a characteristically excellent analysis, Jeff Sullivan calculated that the average reliever lost 2 mph in velocity and 2K/p from age 29 to age 34. Over that same period, the average reliever found that his BB/9 increased by 1.5, his HR/9 increased by 0.7 and his FIP increased by almost 2. Not a pretty picture. If Brett had dominating stuff, the effect of this decline on performance might be less apparent.

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Aroldis Chapman had an average 2015 fastball velocity of 99.5 mph and a K/9 of almost 16. If he were to lose 2 mph and 2 K/9, he would still be a dominant pitcher. But Brett’s fastball averaged 91.7 mph in 2015 (per PITCH/fx), down from 92.3 in 2014. A two mph loss for him would not only make the fastball less of a weapon, but also impact on his other pitches.

Cecil’s best pitch is his curveball. In 2015, he threw it over 40% of the time, and it generated the highest percentage of strikes and whiffs and the lowest percentage of balls in play of any of his pitches. It is safe to say that without his curve, Brett would not be the dominant player he is today. (Link to Brett Cecil’s Outcomes by Pitch Type and Usage at Brooks Baseball available here.)

In 2015, Brett’s curveball averaged 84 mph, or roughly 8 mph lower than his fastball. What will happen when Brett’s fastball velocity drops to the point where it can no longer “keep batters honest”, and they can afford to take the extra split-second to key on the curveball?

It is interesting that Steamer, one of the premiere baseball projection services, projects Brett’s performance to decline significantly in 2016: from an ERA of 2.48 and a WAR of 1.4 to a 2.90 ERA and 1.0 WAR. They predict this decline despite an increase in innings pitched from 53 to 65.

So – for the sake of the argument, as we Irish folks say! – suppose that Steamer is right, and Brett finishes 2016 with a 2.90 ERA (which, had he done it in 2015, would have given him the 51st lowest ERA among relievers with 50+ innings). Would he still merit an O’Day-level contract?

Next: Blue Jays' Brett Cecil Extension: Financially