Alex Anthopoulos was on the Fan590 this morning with Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt (audio here), and while a lot of it was typical Anthopoulosian blather, he did admit that he overstepped when he proclaimed last year that Adeiny Hechavarria was a shortstop, end of story, and he had a few things to say that were definitely worth noting– even if we don’t necessarily believe what he’s saying. Actually, especially if we don’t.
Part One of Three – Brett Cecil
“I think Cecil has looked outstanding,” Anthopoulos insisted, after being asked about the rumours swirling in the vacuum created by the dearth of information he allows to become public about his club. “His changeup is great. Obviously his committed himself, his body is outstanding [note: rawwwr!]. He’s always been a great athlete, but he’s even that much more athletic now, with the added weight loss.
“His velocity’s fine. People like to make something of it, but Brett Cecil’s never been a power guy.”
Anthopoulos notes that Cecil’s strikeout rates have come down precipitously since he was striking out over a batter per inning at high-A and double-A in 2008, but he attributes that to the increase in competition as he’s moved up the ladder. He also says that he looks at Cecil’s rate stats from his successful 2010 as being in line with his 2011 numbers, and that run support and outfield defence did him in to a large extent.
Anthopoulos is right that Cecil has never been a true power guy, but he’s not giving us the full story here, either.
In a 2009 piece for ESPN.com Jason Grey notes Cecil’s two-pitch arsenal, a “low-90s two-seamer” and a wipeout slider. It’s not what anybody except maybe Cecil himself would call a power pitcher– in a 2009 interview with Baseball Prospectus said, “I’d say that I’m a power pitcher, yet I’m not overpowering. I don’t have a 96 or a 97 [mph fastball], I’m more low 90s, maybe 93 or 94 at times. So I’m a power pitcher, but not an overpowering power pitcher.”
It’s also not where he’s at now, either.
Interestingly, the outstanding changeup didn’t develop until later, as Shi Davidi noted in a piece for Sportsnet last March.
“I first came in to pro ball and I was throwing 90-95 and I couldn’t get my changeup below 88. So I fought and battled myself, battled different grips and just nothing worked,” Cecil told him. “Finally I found one that worked in double-A, I got it from Robbie Ray.”
The key, Davidi wrote, is that “the new grip lopped off about two m.p.h., from the pitch speed, dropping the average from 83.3 to 81.4. That made for about a nine m.p.h. separation between his average change and average fastball, and given that his velocity tops out at 94-95, he has the ability to widen the gap and keep hitters even more off-balance.”
The previous spring Marc Hulet wrote at FanGraphs that ”in just his third MLB start of the year, Cecil pitched eight innings, allowed one hit, walked two batters and struck out 10, which was a career high (in 21 MLB appearances). He mixed his four-pitch repertoire effectively and dials his fastball up to 93 mph, when needed.”
So… OK, yes, we all know that Cecil threw a bit harder coming out of college, and saw a drop in velocity last year from which he didn’t recover– though in his last start of 2011 he was sitting over 91 for an inning or so, and broke 92 once, before settling in around 88 or 89. But, knowing that, given what the Davidi piece says about Cecil’s success relying on the gap between his fastball and changeup velocity, I’m not entirely sure why we shouldn’t at least be a little concerned.
Maybe if his changeup had a drop in velocity that mirrored the fastball’s it would mitigate it, but according to the Pitch F/X data at FanGraphs, that wasn’t the case.
Of course, if he can keep the ball down and command the strike zone, there’s no reason Cecil can’t be successful. Just maybe not as successful as he could be with the velocity he showed prior to last year– which, let’s not forget, it’s not impossible for him to get back to, especially since we really need to keep reminding ourselves that it’s still quite early.
And in that sense, I entirely get why Anthopoulos is acting unconcerned. What sticks out at me, somewhat ominously, though, from looking around at these old articles, however, is a Keith Law chat back when Cecil was in the minors, where he writes that it’s “so far so good” for Brett’s conversion from college reliever to pro starter, “but he threw a LOT of breaking balls in college and was used heavily and strangely.”
I’m not saying he’s hurt– and I should hope not, seeing as he threw over 200 innings between the Majors and Las Vegas last year– but… maybe it’s just that it’s spring and there’s fuck all else to talk about, it’s just, the whole thing genuinely is a little bit strange, isn’t it?