Brett Cecil has been making the most of his second stint, in as many seasons, in the Blue Jays rotation. He goes into tonight's start against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim fresh off a solid outing on May 19th against the Seattle Mariners. In that start he went 6 1/3 innings allowing two runs, earned, on seven hits. He walked just one batter for the third time in his six starts and struckout four. There was little margin for error in that start either as the Jays would hold on to win, 3-2.
The outing on the 19th came on the heels of a brutal start at home against Texas. Cecil lasted just two innings and was rocked for eight runs on eight hits and a pair of walks. He lasted just 48 pitches. It was his second poor outing in a row, he had struggled on the eighth of May giving up seven hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings in which he yielded three runs.
These two starts put a damper on his delightful performance across his first three outings, including a brilliant outing on May 3rd that saw Cecil throw an eight inning one-hit gem against the Cleveland Indians. The up and down performance in his first five starts left some doubt about Cecil's progress compared to last season. The twenty-three year old didn't answer all of them last time out, nor could he, but he showed some character bouncing back from such a rough outing.
Overall, several of his key statistics are looking better than last season's. First and foremost he's cut the walks down to 6.8 percent of batters faced, 2.2 percent better than last season. He's kicked it up a notch with the strikeouts as well, mowing down 20.6 percent of batters faced, a fifth more batters than last year. Despite an increase in his flyball rate his home runs per nine innings has dropped to 1.05 from 1.64.
Put that all together and you get a FIP of 3.76, a good deal lower than his 4.98 ERA. Last season his FIP(5.37) closely matched his ERA(5.30) but the tables have turned this year with his FIP a full 1.22 lower than his ERA. If nothing else, Cecil has a better grasp on the aspects of the game he most controls.
Cecil has also changed his approach this season in terms of pitch selection. The biggest difference is his increased usage of his change-up. He threw 11.5 percent change-ups in '09 and he's more than doubled that this year throwing it 26.4 percent of the time. It's been effective, worth 2.46 runs above average per 100 pitches, according to FanGraphs' pitch type values. The change-up is more effective, typically, with more separation off the fastball and Cecil's changes have come in on average -8.9 MPH slower than the heater (-7.5 MPH in '09).
He's also thrown less sliders and more two-seam fastballs. Both of those pitches have added velocity from a season ago. The slider has averaged 85.2 MPH up from 83.9. Less separation in velocity off the fastball makes the slider harder to recognize and it's movement that much more effective. Likewise, the two-seamer has averaged 89.9 MPH from 88.2 and the difference in speed off the four-seam fastball has decreased from -2.6 MPH to just -.8 MPH.
Cecil was a closer in college and the Jays looked to have made the right move by turning him into a starter. With fellow rotation mate, Dana Eveland, being sent down Cecil will continue to sink or swim with the Jays for a little while longer.