The date is April 26th, and Brett Cecil sticks out from an unstable Toronto Blue Jays bullpen after an outing the night before in which he failed to retire a batter.
Cecil has just picked up the loss in a two-run Blue Jays defeat, ballooning his ERA to 7.20 as questions about his decreased velocity circle.
Sound familiar? We’re not talking about today, here.
This is 2015 Brett Cecil. The same 2015 Brett Cecil who took the mound on June 24th in the 11th inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at the Rogers Centre and didn’t allow a run.
For the rest of the season.
That stretch of brilliance from Cecil covered 37 outings in which he struck out 44 batters while holding opposing hitters to an OPS of .390. The left-hander finished the year with a 2.48 ERA and a career-high 1.4 fWAR as as relief pitcher.
Establishing a comfort level within a season can be especially difficult for a reliever, not having the same opportunity as starters to throw 80-to-100 pitches and make adjustments over the course of a start. Cecil has topped 18 pitches thrown just once in his 11 appearances this season, and for a pitcher that relies so heavily on his curveball, typically a “feel” pitch, the unfortunate reality is that Cecil can need a longer adjustment period than a classic fastball-first reliever.
The question of Cecil’s velocity has been linked to these struggles, too, often alongside the similar struggles of Drew Storen, but a look at Cecil’s past velocity charts indicate that this is completely normal for him.
According to Brooks Baseball data, Cecil’s average fastball release velocity through his first 10 outings was 92.28 MPH, which admittedly does comes in below his peak months of velocity from the 2015 and 2014 seasons.
Last year, Cecil’s average fastball release velocity peaked at 93.89 MPH in June. In the first month of the season, however, it sat at just 91.07 MPH. The same thing happened in 2014, when his average April velocity of 92.69 MPH eventually rose to a July peak of 94.33 MPH. Similar velocity trends can be found with his sinker, cutter, and trademark curveball.
A bullpen’s performance, as a whole, cannot be judged as confidently in the opening month of a season as these relief pitchers do not have the same opportunity as hitters or starters to build their consistency through April. For very few players is this more applicable than Cecil.
As May rolls around, expect the Blue Jays’ bullpen, Cecil, and his ERA, to find their level.
This is the same old Brett Cecil, and for the Blue Jays, that’s great news. Eventually.