Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Surprise! Wins are Useless

Tagging Out Evil, Fighting the Good FightIt was early last week when the good men of Infield Fly put up a poll, encouraging Jays fans to cast a vote for their favorite of the four main starting pitchers. Judging by the use of tags on this very website, you'd have to assume my answer would be Brett Cecil1.

It's true I am a big believer in what Brett Cecil can do, but I'm quietly becoming concerned with that he is doing. Yes, he's tied for the team lead with 12 big wins. Unfortunately, outside a superlative month of May, he hasn't pitched especially well at any point this year.

That isn't entirely true. Cecil's ground out an excellent number of innings, driving his WAR up to 2.4 for the year. But of the four starters, Cecil trails in most key component stats. I last wondered about the Cecil condition at the end of June, a month in which his strikeouts nose-dived and his fastball seemed flat. A bunch of home runs and a lousy strand rate shoved his ERA over 5 and his W-L to 2-3 for the month.

July saw Cecil pitch, well, worse. His strikeouts slunk lower while his walks nearly doubled. Much to Cecil's benefit/credit, he kept the ball in the ballpark and the gloves of his mates, riding a very low BABIP and a sky-high strand rate to a 1-0 record and a sparkling 2.23 ERA. Arbitrary end points as they might be, two consecutive bad months is two consecutive bad months.

Brett Cecil improved his won loss record in August (going 3-2) by pitching much better, nearly as well as his great month of May. The walks fell off sharply, allowing Cecil to weather the normalization of his home run rate, his BABIP, and his strand rate. His ground ball rate went up again and, while not nearly as high as in the minors, nearly reached the excellent 50% plateau.

Again, I don't mean to diminish the contributions of Brett Cecil. Outings like his start against the Rays, in which he lasted 8 long innings after giving up 5 early runs are invaluable and the reason innings pitched is included in all worthwhile counting stats. It speaks to the fluky nature of starting pitching, where an ill-timed home run can turn the context of an entire start completely around.

To me, it is another example of the triumph of process over result. Comparing Cecil's last two starts is a pretty stark reminder of the cruel nature of his profession. A little bad defense behind you, one poorly located pitch at the worst time and you've got a loss and 5 runs tallied against you. Some people might not care that you cruised for the next 5 (lower leveraged) innings, but dancing between the raindrops for 6 innings — like Cecil did against the Yankees — is a very dangerous game. But one is a win and one is a loss, only the optics say any differently.

What am I saying here? I'm a little worried about Cecil moving into next year. I worry he has a better chance of taking a step back rather than forward. I worry his new love for the change up might turn him into a fly-ball thrower, most unfortunately in a homer haven for right-handed hitters. Basically, I'm worried that the not-great months outnumber the good.

All the talk of the 4 great starters gets the blood moving but at least two of them still have much to prove. Let us learn from the very immediate past and remain guarded (just a little) in our optimism.

1 - The correct answer is Team Romero.

Splits courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. Image courtesy of Reuters.


  1. Based on his monstrous manly thighs, I still give the nod to Cecil.

    Actually, I don't. I'm still with RickRo.

    Where Cecil got in trouble this year was in standing up too much in the middle of his delivery, rather than using those manly tree trunks to drop and drive towards home plate. As a result: Too much up in the zone, too many hits and too many walks.

    I still really like Cecil, but I think there is work to be done and innings to be pitched and lessons to be learned yet.

  2. Let us learn from the very immediate past and remain guarded (just a little) in our optimism.


    The silver lining, Cecil's still so young, and still has so much to learn. Optimism abounds. The glass is overflowing over here. Ricky struggled to finish last season. And he's made strides this year. Cecil, I hope, will do the same.

  3. Meh. Your blog has sucked since you got married.

  4. I am, looking at things today, with RickRo, but tomorrow (2011) I will be with Morrow.

    Seriously, Cecil, I think will be very good, but he will always be the other guy. That's why everybody compares him to Jimmy Key.


  5. I'm with Ricky. But you have to be excited about a rotation that has Ricky, Morrow and a developing Cecil. I've left out Marcum as although he's the heart of the pitching staff, the organization doesn't think he has the ability to go long term. I think he's got another solid 3 years and we should wrap him up for this time. Marcum could easily have 3 - 5 more wins with a bit of run support or a bullpen hold.
    But in terms of pure stuff we also have Drabek and Keith Law's last article indicates that we have a solid guy to round out the rotation next year, with #1 potential.
    Anyway let's just say that we have a lot to be hopeful about on the pitching mound and Cecil will continue to develop. He has a good mind and is willing to listen, which are probably more important for a young player than pure stuff.


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