Monday, January 11, 2010

High Ceiling Deathmatch

The Blue Jays glut of pitching prospects, inning eaters, and AAAA roster filler gives rise to a very specific type of prospect porn. Where once there was rosterbation there is now auto-rotative arousal. The only thing longer than the boners of auto-rotational arousers is the list of potential starting pitchers for the Jays in 2010 and beyond. Morrow! Drabek! Chapman! McGowanCumPurMilRayLitMondet! It is a nice problem to have, and a lot of fun to image what happens if and when half these guys come of age. Two names from 2009 seem to split the opinions of Jays watchers: Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero.

Romero picked up some early Rookie of the Year buzz thanks to impressive months of June and July. Sadly he tired and struggled as the season wore on, posting much uglier numbers than I realized. 1.52 WHIP, 4 walks per 9 innings. While some pencil Ricky Roma in as the Opening Day starter, others (myself included) aren't so sure.

Brett Cecil rushed his way to the majors on the back of his excellent minor league lines. While in the big show he had some good starts and some very bad ones. He ended up with similar numbers to Romero in some respects; slightly better K/BB though fewer Ks. A worse WHIP with too many home runs surrendered. But how to they stack up? Who will be the better pitcher in 2010? 2011? The not-too-distant future in which the machines are self-aware but peaceful? Why don't we take a look see at what the bring to the table, pitchwise? I grabbed the data for three strong starts each. First: spin-deflection also known as break. Click to enlarge, full explanation below.

A couple things stand out to me: Ricky Romero's change up IS that good. It's usually the first thing people discuss when they break RR down and with good reason. Cecil's slider seems to clump up nicely, a good sign in terms of command me thinks. We can see another large cluster of black around -8 inches, representing Cecil's two seam fastball. He throws it often and with some success. Perhaps the two-seamer could emerge as the pitch to bolster his slightly lackluster ground ball numbers. In this admittedly small sample (three starts), Cecil induced nearly 40% of his grounders with the two seamer.

Romero gets a fuck ton of ground balls in his own way, mostly by pounding the zone with his fastball. One can only assume Romero's ability to change speeds forces a lot of roll overs and ground outs.

The erratic nature of both curves suggests these guys shouldn't really throw curveballs. Romero relies on his fastball and change up with a couple curves, sliders, and mixed-grip fastballs tossed in to keep hitters honest. Cecil is four seamer, two seamer and slider; with a pretty bad curve and occasional change up for good measure. How about a closer look?

Ahh, the spin versus velocity graph reveals all. Lots of fastballs and changeups from Romero, more variety from Cecil. Cecil's inability to throw his curveball consistently really shows here also. The angle & direction on which the ball spins sure goes a long way to tell us how and where it will break. Cecil's is all over the place, so is his curveball.

So what does this all mean? By my eye they seem to have pretty similar stuff. Each man reaches the mid-nineties with his fastball and offsets it with a good secondary pitch. Both guys need to throw more strikes and keep the ball in the park better. As for the future, well, deep exhale.

Not to go all intangibles on you here, but Ricky Romero scares me. One too many times I saw him staring into the dugout like a frightened rabbit looking for The Manager to come and rescue him. And that's not good. Brett Cecil has the reputation of a bulldog, a former closer with the swagger you like to see and desire to achieve. When I consider that he's two years younger than Romero and flew through the minors, I think he's only going to get better.

Romero struggled throughout his minor league career with make-up issues and the inability to trust his stuff. I don't know if that will haunt him forever, but when I watch him on the mound it informs my opinion of him. His shoulders slump forward and that's it for Ricky. Cecil showed the same vulnerability in Boston last year, a brutal start he basically quit on. But from what I see (and truthful, what I want to see) he wants to get better and perform. That's all well and good for a marginally talented player, but Cecil has the body and arsenal of a guy made to do this.

Brett Cecil serves as a good example of why teams aggressively promote some players while holding others back. In the lower minors he could get guys out simply by locating his fastball or throwing strikes with his slider. He still needs to learn to pitch, something Ricky Romero spent the extra seasons in the minors doing.

So yeah, I'm bullish on Cecil. I think he'll be a rotation mainstay for years to come, not just because I gave him a cool nickname. Which isn't to say I'm down on Romero or think poorly of him. When all is said and done, I feel Cecil will be the better player, it might even happen this season. No amount of time in the bullpen or working with The Manager can teach Romero what he already knows. Maybe he will take a big step this season. Develop his curveball further and become the Johan Santana clone he might just be. Which, I don't need to tell you, would be awesome.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia, Pitch F/X data courtesy of Brooks Baseball


  1. The only thing longer than the boners of auto-rotational arousers is the list of potential starting pitchers for the Jays in 2010 and beyond.

    This is why I love this site. This post could have ended with just one paragraph, and I still would have been thoroughly satisfied.

  2. Good analysis.

    I'd just like to say, though, that Romero, despite his hunched shoulders, gutted out five or six innings on numerous occassions without being able to locate his fastball or utilize his change off it.

  3. and perhaps we an throw Rzep into the mix?

  4. Great post, Drew. I have to say that some of this type of analysis goes right over my head like a Rick Ankiel fastball, but your explanations are clear enough that I understand the gyst of what you're saying. I agree that Cecil looks to be a superior pitcher. His minor league numbers are outstanding and I like the comparison that 3:10 to Joba makes between him and Andy Pettite. That's a rather optimistic projection, but with a bit of luck and some hard work by Cecil it's not impossible. He is a very talented young man.

  5. "Who will be the better pitcher in 2010? 2011? The not-too-distant future in which the machines are self-aware but peaceful?"

    Best throwaway line I've read in a blog in, maybe, ever...

  6. First of all, RR Cool Jay is one of the best nicknames I've heard. Hopefully Arnsberg's departure doesn't throw off RR's mojo. Apparently all Arnsberg had to do was give him a pep talk about trusting his stuff and get him to land his lead foot in front instead of to the side, and that was it. From a pure fan's perspective, I like RR more, but I realize Cecil has the better stuff.

    Anyway, great post Drew. As Jon Stewart would say, "keep fuckin that chicken". I hope I used that right.

  7. And yet, didn't JP famously say that Romero needed a wheelbarrow to carry his balls to the mound?

    I think I need an attitude tweak on RR. I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop with him and expect a major blow up, maybe it's time to start thinking last season was the tip of the iceberg. If he could just conquer the goddamn Red Sox....

    But yeah, Cecil = bonerland. I live in fear he'll be moved for a positional prospect.

  8. I think it's important to acknowledge that Ack. As fans we let a little doubt about The Player slip into our mind and we can't help but look for it. Same with Cecil. At some point I decided he was awesome so guess what: he's awesome. And I'll keep looking for ways to make it so.

    Romero's numbers are all over the place, I don't really know what to make of him. So many ground balls, so many baserunners. Weird.

  9. Drew, gotta agree with those before me: great post. It's comments like LOLCurves in your graphs, and the titles too, that slay me. Great work. By and large, you're one of the reasons I'm high on Cecil. I'm looking forward to watching him this season. And as long as Romero isn't the reincarnation of Gustavo Chacin, I'm good.

  10. Interesting you brought up Chacin. If there was one guy on the current staff that might go Chacin one day it could be Litsch. Chacin had such underwhelming stuff, he got away with a lot. The Jays were wise to give him as short a leash as they did.

    Also Rzep is worth looking into. I'll check him out.

  11. With all this pitch f/x analysis you're doing, I've decided to cash in my "buy Jon Hale a new computer" fund and blow it all on beer and candy.

  12. Your the wittiest, cleverest, nerdiest blogger that the Jays have! Keep up the excellent work!


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