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St. Louis Cardinals: Can Brett Cecil Close?

Brett Cecil throwing in Spring Training

Following another bullpen meltdown for the Cardinals on Tuesday night, and the shaky 9th last night. I began to wonder if Brett Cecil would be a good option to close given his recent success. Seung-hwan Oh (5.73 ERA, .304 average against) and Trevor Rosenthal (7.15 ERA, .302 average against) have both struggled significantly in June. Cecil on the other hand (2.84 ERA, .163 average against) has found his footing for the first time in 2017. To get a true feel for Cecil’s ability to close, I dove into the underlying statics.

Recent Trends

As I mentioned previously, Cecil has been a very solid reliever in the month of June. He is keeping men off-base, and has only given up runs in one outing this month. Cecil has also been able to limit the damage from left handed batters. He is holding them to a .214 average while only giving up one earned run. For comparison, lefties are hitting .333 against him on the season as a whole. June is also the first month in which Cecil has kept a left handed batter from leaving the yard. Somewhat uncommon, he has been dominant against right handed batters all season (1.93 ERA, .185 average against, 0.80 WHIP). For his career, right handed batters have reached base at a higher clip (.338 OBP) than lefties (.289 OBP). If Cecil has found a way to get hitters from both sides of the plate out consistently, it would bode well for his ability to close.

The First Two Months

Although Cecil has recently looked the part of the quality reliever the Cardinals believe they signed in the off-season for four years/ $30.5mm. The first two months cannot be ignored. Plain and simple he was absolutely horrible. While his ERA of 4.50 over the first two months may not appear that bad compared to some other Cards relievers. He was allowing almost two runners per inning, and teams hit .343 against him in May. If June is an aberration and the first two months are indicative of the pitcher he truly is. A regression would spell disaster for him in the closer role.

High Leverage Situations

A topic of much debate throughout baseball circles. Should a team’s best reliever be saved for the 9th inning and closing out a game? While that is a discussion for another day, we can all agree that the 8th and 9th innings are typically much higher leverage than the 2nd. Luckily for us, our friends over at Fangraphs track a player’s performance in high leverage situations. Unfortunately for Mr. Cecil, 2016 and 2017 have seen him completely implode in these intense spots. In 2016, Cecil sported an unsightly 12.86 ERA, 8.72 FIP, 2.43 WHIP and .412 average against. While 2017 has slightly improved upon that disaster, it’s only been to the tune of an 8.14 FIP, 2.33 WHIP, .385 average against, and even worse 13.50 ERA. Based on those numbers, Cecil is at his worst when it matters most. Definitely not something a team is looking for in a closer. Also, not something a team wants to see from their big off-season bullpen acquisition.

Thanks for reading!

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