After struggling throughout the season to find his pre-2016 form, Brett Cecil is starting to rediscover the magnificence of being a nearly unhittable left-handed reliever.
This can only come as a pleasant surprise to the Blue Jays who have been in a desperate search for a left-handed option out of the bullpen in high-leverage situations late in games this season. In one-run games this season, the Blue Jays maintain a dismal 18-24 record and lack any consistently reliable option who can shutdown opponents with his left-hand and do so in spot situations facing left-handed hitters.
It was certainly no fault from the front office of trying to find that option though. The role was originally slated for Cecil to start the season but after watching him struggle in stretches throughout the season to the tune of a 5.14 ERA in the first half, there had to be another avenue worth trying. Thus, signing Franklin Morales became an option before he wasn't healthy enough to remain on the roster while they also considered veteran Aaron Loup and September call-up Matt Dermody for the role as well.
Neither option worked out, at least not in obvious ways, but may have provided the proper motivation for Brett Cecil to kick it into gear heading into the most integral point of the season.
In the second half of the season, Cecil has lowered his ERA to 3.26 ERA while dropping his slash-line against from .328/.375/.508 to .230/.288/.365. Zooming in a little bit closer, Cecil has dominated even further in September while not allowing an earned run and lowering his batting average against to .158.
When you look into small samples like this and try to make sense of the noise, often there are a plethora of reasons as to why there is a change (good or bad) between two different samples. With Cecil, the answer is clear. For him, it's the success of his most important pitch, his curveball.
In the first half of the season, Cecil struggled with his curveball to no end. He threw it for strikes only 32.98 per cent of the time, letting batters off the hook by swinging at it only 42.55 per cent of the time. When they did decide to offer at it, they rarely missed (whiffed only 14.89 per cent of the time) and smashed it to the blare of a .296 batting average and .519 slugging percentage.
In the second half though, that all changed. Cecil started commanding the curveball while throwing it slightly more often at the expense of his sinker and cut-fastball. His curveball fell in for a strike 48.57 per cent of the time, which forced batters to increase their willingness to swing at it, increasing the swing rate to 47.86 per cent. Following the chain of thought once more, these batters also started to miss it nearly twice as often as before, whiffing 23.57 per cent of their swings. The result saw his overall K/9 rate increase from 7.71 to 12.57 while recording a measly .167 batting average against his hook.
In plain English, Cecil's increased command of his curveball is the reason he's made the resurgence he has of late. It almost sounds too simple to be true. "Throw the ball in the strike zone more often, let the pitch work its magic and see what happens," but that's exactly what he's done.There's nothing wrong with a simple answer sometimes. In the world of baseball where certainty is as existent as snow on a July afternoon, it's actually quite comforting.
Given that Cecil's second half numbers are more or less around the numbers that he produced last season, it's fair to say that Cecil has emerged from the first-half abyss to be the left-handed reliever the Jays need as they continue to fight for the last playoff spot.
That's great because it's September 23rd. There's no time like the present.