St. Louis Cardinals: The Unique Pitching Approach Of Brett Cecil
When the St. Louis Cardinals added LHP Brett Cecil to their bullpen arsenal a few months back, they added a pitcher who was different. His curveball heavy approach is something that strays away from the norm for a Redbird reliever.
The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Cecil because of his great curveball but that is not the type of pitcher Cecil has always been. In the early stages of his career the fastball was his main pitch, as it is with most pitchers. That being said, he was also a starter for the Blue Jays in those early years and a starting role doesn’t usually call for the curveball-first approach.
It was 2013 when the transition of Cecil to the bullpen took place, and it was the best thing for his career. He went from an ERA that was consistently in the high fours, but more often than not above five, and turned it into a 2.82 as a reliever.
That same year is when his most used pitch began to shift. There had been a steady decline in his fastball usage since coming into the league, but the 2013 season is when his curveball rose to prominence with a 32.6 percent usage rating. It wasn’t until the following year that it passed the fastball as the most thrown pitch at 43.5 percent.
Since moving to the bullpen Cecil has never had an ERA higher than 3.93, which is what his 2016 campaign ended with. However, last year was also the least he has been used as a reliever, appearing in 54 games. His cutter usage got cut in half, essentially making him only a curveball and fastball pitcher.
Cecil has an average fastball velocity of 92 MPH out of the bullpen. The outcomes of batted balls are comparable to Matt Bowman, in that he throws mostly ground balls and with the exception of last year, his ground ball percentage was usually above 50%. Last year, however, he got hit harder and he saw that number drop to 42 percent, while the line drive percentage rose to 28%.
That should not concern fans in St. Louis. At 30-years old, the left handed reliever will still prove to be a valuable asset in the late innings despite a down year by his bullpen standards. The biggest thing the unique style of Cecil gives the St. Louis Cardinals is options. Zach has talked about the level of play expected from this bullpen.
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Potentially his most useful role is the first part of a three tier pitching combo. Starting with Cecil, then Rosenthal, and finally Seung Hwan Oh. This would go from a lefty curveball heavy pitcher with a low 90s fastball, to an upper 90s fastball, and ending with a righty with a 91 MPH fastball and a solid dose of a slider. That is a different look from inning to inning.
He can double as filling the Bowman role too if needed, which is to come in the game and create ground balls. Cecil has proven that he can do that too. It is his flexibility that will make him useful. And it is that reliance on his curveball that makes him different enough to be flexible.
The bullpen of the St. Louis Cardinals needed something different. The way it stands, it is full of several pitchers who throw upper 80s/lower 90s. There are only two who are the exception to this, Rosenthal and Jonathan Broxton. And they all, like so many pitchers, rely on their fastball. Which, why would they not? Nowadays a fastball going 90 is talked about being a slower fastball, but there is still such a small windows for hitters to decide to swing or not.
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A curveball is not the only reason that Cecil has been successful in his career, but it is what makes him different. Yes, he is different by the standards of what the Cardinals have in their bullpen. He is also different from almost every pitcher in the league. That is a huge reason as to what made a 5.00+ ERA as a starter become a sub 3.00 as a reliever in just a years time.