Monday, April 4, 2011

An Inning in the Life of Brett Cecil

An innocent tweet from Marc Hulet (of Fangraphs fame) got me thinking about a few things. First, I thought of Cecil's rapid evolution towards a cagey, soft-tossing lefty before his time.

Then I thought of the old Medical School posts I wrote on Halladay's sequencing. Then I thought of delicious sandwiches.

After lamenting the first and enjoying the third, I came back to the second. Why not take a look at what Cecil did against the Twins on Sunday? See if he actually changed speeds and angles or whatever.

Everything started out well enough, right up until I realized that GAMEDAY HATES BRETT CECIL. The biggest casualty of Cecil's disappearing velocity is the ability of these poor, overworked robots to discern what in the Hell Brett Cecil throws.

After some time I'll never get back and a little tweaking (with Excel 2003 at home, sad face) I took Marc's tweet literally and laid out Brett Cecil's first inning below. Let's travel along with the increasingly crafty lefty and see what worked for him against the Twins during the opening frame.

As a refresher: to properly read these graphs, imagine you are the catcher or umpire. The pitches are coming towards you (from the right hand-side of the image in this case, as Brett Cecil throws with his left hand.)

The RED dots are four seam fastballs, the BLUE dots are two seamers/sinkers, and the green dealies are change ups. Swinging strikes are X'd, called strikes boxed, and balls circled. Foul balls are starred and indicated as such. The bigger the point, the slower the pitch.

The batters are Denard Span (L), Tsuyoshi Nishioka (R), and Delmon Young (R). The strike zone is standardized...mostly. It is pretty much Span's zone for all three bros, which only affects Nishioka in any real way. Here we go.

Great start for Cecil! A Brett Cecil Attempted Four Seamer starts Span off 0-1. First pitch of the game, not a bad time to groove one. Next, Cecil opts for the sinking two seamer under the hands, which Span swings right through. Awesome. 0-2 on the leadoff man is a great way to live.

Cecil (and Arencibia, it should be noted) then attempt to trick poor Denard. Throwing a similar-looking pitch — the change up — in the same spot. The pitch is too far inside and too low, so Denard takes. 1-2.

Rather than waste a pitch, Cecil crosses Span up by coming with one of his "fast-balls" down and away. Span freezes, strike three. Cue cheering, ball thrown around the horn, goggle adjustments. Up next is Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a.k.a. Not Ichiro.

Again, the bottom of Nishioka's strike zone is a little higher than shown here, making the first pitch fastball down and away a clear-cut ball. Cecil then pounds the same spot again and gets the call, evening the count at one.

The slappy Nishioka figures to get defensive with the next pitch so Cecil and Cibia come way inside with a two seamer, a pitch that likely started on the edge of the plate. Nishioka takes and jumps ahead 2-1.

Cecil doesn't want to fall behind a guy without much power (he and I assume, because we're probably racist) so he comes back over the plate. But, as he plays in the American League East, it is a change-up, not a fastball. Nishioka swings through it and immediately regrets many decisions made over the last six months.

With the count now even at two, Cecil throws his BFF change-up on the inner half, freezing the Twins second baseman. Great job of keeping an inexperienced hitter off balance. Two down and up steps the free-swinging Delmon Young.

Despite my "free-swinging" billing, Cecil throws two straight sinkers up and over the plate to Young. Delmon fouls them both away, finding himself in a 0-2 hole.

Cecil then dials up his four seamer, buzzing Young's tower with the highest velo'd fastball he threw all afternoon. Good job of giving Young something to think about and "changing his eye level", as they often say.

Still in the driver's seat against a guy allergic to walking, Cecil goes to his new out-pitch: the change-up. For the second straight time, he throws the change in search of the strikeout.

And a strikeout is exactly what he gets as Young swings through the well-placed change down in the zone. Inning over! Parade planning under way!

This was, sadly, the high point of Cecil's day. He didn't look great at points on Sunday, seeming to battle fatigue as his velocity slipped as the day wore on.

If this is mechanical issue as the Tao and Cal from MUD discussed on Twitter, perhaps Walton and the new bossman can fix it. As he showed in this snapshot, he can mix it up and miss bats in a real way. If it is a health issue...getting it figured out sooner rather than later is preferable. This team will need him come October.

Pitch F/X data courtesy of Brooks Baseball. Get used to reading that.


  1. 'This team will need him come October.'

    What you did there. I see it.

    Anyway, interesting post. I wish I hadn't seen it until the morning though because I am going to need all the reading I can find to pass the time during the off day.

  2. Man, if it had to be one inning, couldn't it have been the 5th, and I could indulge in my paranoiac concerns for at least the next 5 days? I don't have access to the data, but from what I could see, it looked like Cecil sat around 86 in the 4th & 5th innings. That concerns me- Cecil doesn't have good enough control to survive at that velocity.

    So, if the symptoms are a persistent loss of velocity and early fatigue, what should we worry about? The most optimistic I can get is that he did something to his arm over the offseason and it is taking abnormally long to build up strength and velocity. Maybe he went hunting too much and the recoil pounded his shoulder.

  3. He obviously should cut his finger while making chicken for dinner every year in spring training. E. Coli and salmonella builds arm strength, right?

  4. Super cool. Love the charts. You should make each start on the Jays' season into a flip book. I'd buy it.

  5. Wouldn't the inside pitch to Nashioki (??) be a cutter if it dives inside off the plate, instead of a 2-seamer that tails? (or by two-seamer, do you mean cutter, instead of sinker?)

    By my eye, I didn't think I was seeing any four-seamers, just sinkers/cutters/changeups/sliders. And not very good ones.

    Despite what Pat Tabler says (just give me location), velocity does matter and Cecil seems to be down about 3mph.

  6. You're absolutely right, it was a sinker, I got ahead of myself in the description.

    I had a really hard time discerning between pitches, both by eye and by the numbers. At least his underwhelming fastball isn't straight.

  7. Well Brooks Baseball says only down about 1.5mph on the sinker - which doesn't bother me really.

    But they say his Slider averaged 87.3mph and his curve 82.1mph, compared to averages of 85 and 77 from last year. This leads me to believe that Brett has added the cutter it is confusing the algorithm. Probably throwing an 88mph cutter, an 84mph slider and a couple of second inning 78mph curves.

    Please don't call me an idiot.

  8. A couple could be cutters, they certainly weren't his usual sinkers. When I classify pitches, I use gameday's classifications as a starting point but double check a few different ways.

  9. Totally anecdotal, but...
    I was sitting right behind home plate, about 20 rows up, and in the 4th and 5th innings everything just looked to be in degrees of slow (still with movement). There was an advance scout sitting in front of me, and he wrote a lot when Brett was pitching, and looked around and chewed gum when he wasn't (he was damn good at chewing).
    There were three scouts sitting in about row 33; they had a radar gun, and I wish I had the stones to ask them what they were looking for, or what they saw.

  10. That's cool, I would love to know what he wrote about Cecil also.

    I imagine it might be tough to ask them as they're working, after all.

  11. Yeah I thought so too, so I didn't bother him, but in the 7th, once he'd packed up all of his stuff, an obviously overserved (from, I'm guessing, Friday) dude starts talking to him, and they actually carried on a conversation.
    Lesson learned.


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