The St. Louis Cardinals have not had a whole lot going right lately. After getting swept by the Cincinnati Reds everything is getting called into question to figure out how to right the sinking ship.
Free agent signee Brett Cecil is no exception to the struggles. He is 0-2 with a 5.66 ERA through 20.2 innings. Not exactly what the St. Louis Cardinals thought they would be getting from the veteran left-handed reliever. For $30.5 million dollars over four years, it is safe to say the team was expecting a higher level of performance.
There is another reason that the Cardinals should be upset with Cecil. He is not playing like the pitcher they signed this off season.
That’s right, his approach to facing batters has changed and not for the better. Cecil was a pitcher known to use his curveball more than any other pitch. This season his curveball usage has dropped from 45.4 percent to 28.6 percent according to Fangraphs. That his a huge drop to make in a year.
It has been replaced by his cutter. A pitch that has raised in usage from 8.1 percent to 16.6 percent. His changeup is also up to 17.1 percent from 6.4 percent.
From the looks of it he is adjusted his approach to try and create weak contact by throwing pitches with late movement, like his cutter and changeup, more often. This is most likely a reaction to his rise in ERA from 2.48 in 2015 to 3.93 in 2016.
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It is not a bad idea to throw his other pitches more. Being a two-pitch pitcher can get solved pretty quickly. But for Cecil to drop the pitch that essentially got him a $30.5 million dollar contract is mind boggling. He threw his curveball more often than his fastball for three years (2014-2016) and now it is his least-used pitch.
The way for Cecil to get back on track is pretty clear, throw the curveball more. Still use every pitch he is now, but invite good ole Uncle Charlie to the game a little bit more. It will open up his whole arsenal. Being a crafty lefty like Cecil is all about being able to use the entirety of a repertoire.
He doesn’t necessarily need to pitch off of his curveball, although at times he should. It is about varying the depth of movement. Throwing a fastball, cutter and changeup more than anything else gives the batter confidence that the ball won’t be moving that much. Mixing in the bigger break of the curveball will keep the batter more off balance; they don’t want to look dumb on a big breaking ball in the dirt.
With a low-90s fastball, Cecil needs that kind of deception to miss barrels. Hitters on their front foot, or just flat out missing the big contact zone are going to be the specialty. He just needs to figure out how to get back to being that kind of pitcher.
There is a reason the cutter and changeup theory is not working. He needs to change something, and going back to basics is not a bad idea. The St. Louis Cardinals signed him for the pitcher he was, not for what he thinks he is now.