Brett Cecil Is Back, With a Twist

Brett Cecil is not like how we last saw him.

It’s probably been a while since you’ve thought about Brett Cecil. It’s been a long time for me. Years ago, he posted a few really strong seasons with the Blue Jays. Then he got a sizable contract with the Cardinals, and he wasn’t so good. He saw a dip in velocity in 2017, and then an even more significant dip in velocity in 2018. Now that he’s spent 2019 injured, things aren’t looking so great for him. It makes sense, then, that he’s experimenting with a rather drastic change.

Here’s a screenshot of Cecil pitching in 2018:

Cecil would be hard-pressed to throw from a higher release point. As is, he’s already falling off to the side, and any further and he’d be going full Blake Snell or Jose Alvarado. Now vertical release point doesn’t all have to do with arm angle. Some pitchers have long arms, and some pitchers are tall. Usually, pitchers that fall into one of those categories fall into the other. In any case, vertical release point does a decent job of capturing the broad strokes: who throws over the top, and who throws submarine? Here, we can compare Cecil’s release point to other left-handed pitchers in 2018.

You can see that Cecil throws from a higher point than most left-handed pitchers. Specifically, he throws from a higher release point than about 90% of pitchers.

Fast-forward to February of this year, here’s Cecil throwing a bullpen in spring training:

Ah yes, Brett Cecil “doing some pitches”, as per the caption. Aside from a haircut, everything appears to be in order. Cecil is ostensibly healthy, back in camp, and his mechanics seem more or less the same as when he was still pitching in 2018.

Well, here’s a tweet from the other day, courtesy of Jeff Jones:

Now, I know that this video isn’t particularly helpful. This is probably one of the worst angles we could ask for. But this is what we have, and so we will make do with it. Cecil has gone from one of the highest lefty release points to one of the lowest, and that’s going to have huge ramifications for Cecil as a pitcher. But before we get there, a quote from Cecil himself.

“I feel like it makes me a little more competitive from down there,” Cecil said after throwing an inning of live batting practice. “It feels a lot better on my arm, not that before it hurt, but I feel a lot more free down there.”

This decision couldn’t have been made without a great deal of deliberation. This change in arm slot is going to change Brett Cecil as we know him. Let’s refer back to the previously referenced scatterplot. This time, we’ll look at a few things in particular.

You’ll see that I highlighted three names on the bottom left: Adam KolarekAaron Loup, and Donnie Hart. In eyeballing it, Cecil has dropped down to a vertical release point somewhere in this vicinity. Now, for the most part, this is generally done out of necessity. Most pitchers don’t just decide to throw sidearm or submarine; they often do it because they don’t throw very hard. And nowadays, Cecil doesn’t, and neither do the three on the bottom right. Cecil claims dropping down feels better on his arm, so while I would have been worried he would lose a significant amount of velocity, those worries have slightly tampered for the time being. Especially since it’s being reported that his velocity hasn’t been bad.

It looks like Cecil will be throwing out of this general arm slot:

Now, I don’t know what Cecil’s release point numbers are going to look like, but in terms of arm slot, he looks most akin to Hart. I don’t know what tweaks Cecil is going to make to his pitch grips, either, but for the time being, I’m going to assume that his pitches are going to remain the same. The last time we saw Cecil, he was spotting sinkers to his arm-side, curveballs and cutters to his glove-side, and fastballs inside to hitters. The nature of a drastic change in pitch slot is that all of these pitches are going to change completely.

Here are two graphics from The Hardball Times, altered to match the spin to that of a left-handed pitcher.

First, what Cecil looked like before — an overhand left-handed delivery, as seen by the batter:

And then what Cecil looks like now — a sidearm left-handed delivery, as seen by the batter:

 

This is intuitive. If Cecil is going to use the same pitch grips, his pitches are obviously going to look different. Given that he previously was coming over the top, you would expect more backspin on his fastball before, whereas we’re going to see a lot more sidespin now that he’ll be getting on the side of the ball.

Here’s another quote from Cecil:

With the slant, Cecil’s curve becomes more of a “slurve, slider-looking pitch,” he said, and he thinks it’ll get better with practice thanks to Maddux’s coaching. On Tuesday, he impressed teammates and coaches with the movement and deception on his pitches, especially against lefties

For the most part, this is what you’d expect. It’s interesting that it’s getting slurve-type movement, which leads me to believe that his curveball has gotten even slower. He used to throw it a lot harder, but now he doesn’t, nor does he spin it well. The other side of this quote is that he’s going to make it especially hard on lefties, because he’s giving them a really funky look.

Getting back to the spin of his pitches, this change should make Cecil really interesting to watch. The velocity might be gone, but he’s compensated by changing to an approach that will boost the lateral movement of his pitches. Since his fastball and sinker don’t miss bats, and they don’t get put on the ground a ton, it’s pretty savvy of Cecil to switch to an arm slot that should allow him to improve in both areas. I don’t expect him to start getting hitters to miss on his fastballs at an elite clip, but I do foresee a significant spike in ground balls, and that’s going to help him stay relevant with a bad fastball and, at best, one good pitch to speak of (his curveball reverted significantly in 2018).

It’s too early to say what’s to come for Cecil in 2020. In spring training, he was throwing out of his normal arm slot, but in experimenting in his downtime from coronavirus, he came out of it with something that may salvage his career. There are many unknowns, but what’s clear is that Cecil was not someone I was going to follow, and now he is. We don’t know much about this version of Brett Cecil. But lucky for him, hitters won’t either until they see him for themselves.

Photo by Jimmy Simmons / Icon Sportwire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Michael Ajeto

Michael writes about the Mariners at Lookout Landing, while doing other analysis here at Pitcher List. You can follow Michael on Twitter @dysthymikey, or you can not.

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