Apparently, Brett Cecil is still a Cardinal. Who knew?
The St. Louis Cardinals signed Brett Cecil in November of 2016 to a 4-year, $30.5M deal, jumping the offseason market on relievers to grab a dynamic lefty.
It really was not a bad signing at the time. I admit that I was in favor of it. (Ah, the good ol’ days of innocent youth when I still thought signing free agent relievers was smart... sigh.)
With the Jays, Cecil was transitioned from a starter’s role to the bullpen in 2012. In doing so, he witnessed a sharp increase in his K-rates and a dip in his home runs allowed. He wasn’t a terrible starter, but out of the pen, he was excellent, posting ERAs and FIPs under 3.00 from ’13-’15. His K-rate was consistently over 11 per 9 and his BB rate steadily dropped.
In ’16, Cecil experienced a bump in his HRs allowed and that spiked his ERA and FIP. The underlying rate stats remained elite – Cecil K’ed 11.05 batters per nine and only walked 1.96. When he hit free agency following the season, it was easy to see why the Cardinals were interested in him and signed him so early. The homer rates should have dropped regardless, but a move out of Toronto and to a pitcher’s park in St. Louis would only help assure that.
The Cardinals expected Cecil to be his formerly dominant self.
For one season, Cecil’s stats came close to that, if you squint. In ’17, Cecil produced a 3.88 era and a 3.26 FIP with the Cards in 67 innings. There were underlying concerns in his game. His K-rate fell from over 11 to 8.82. His BB-rate stayed steady.
The next season, 2018, Cecil bombed. A shoulder strain kept him out of the start of the season. When he returned, something was missing from his stuff. His K-rate plummeted to just over 5 and his BB-rate was above that – 6.89. Needless to say, his ERA and FIP followed.
2019 was a completely lost season for Cecil. The Cardinals listed his issue as “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome” and he did not appear with the club.
2019 MLB Stats – N/A
ZiPS: 35.3 IP, 4.58 ERA, 4.60 FIP, 7.39 K/9, 3.57 BB/9
Depth Charts: 20 IP, 4.60 ERA, 4.70 FIP, 7.40 K/9, 3.59 ZiPS
When considering Cecil’s 2020 season, the main question is will Cecil have a 2020 season? He has apparently recovered from his various injuries in ’18 and ’19 and had a few successful outings this spring. He threw 4.1 innings, allowing 2 earned runs, walking 4 and striking out 3. His comeback ended when Cecil felt a “pop” in his hamstring. The club announced that Cecil was likely to start the season on the IL. Manager Mike Shildt also revealed that the club had planned for Cecil to begin the season on a rehab assignment anyway. Cecil’s place on the 2020 roster, regardless of health, seems tenuous at best.
The problem with Cecil is the club cannot rehab him forever. Once he recovers from the hamstring issue, Mo and Girsch will have to make a decision about him. Can he still be a productive major leaguer? Is he worth devoting a 40-man roster spot to?
Projections are not optimistic. Despite only having one truly regrettable season and one season lost completely to injury, neither ZiPS nor Steamer/Depth Charts believes that he can return to anything resembling his former self. Part of that is age. At 33 and 8 months, Cecil is entering the portion of his career where projections would apply a noteworthy decline regardless of his health and previous performance. Once all of that is added together and thrown into the pot with his injury history and 2018 collapse, projection systems do not believe that Cecil can be anything more than a replacement-level player and that in half a season of health.
At some point early this season (whenever that is), the Cardinals are going to have to decide whether Cecil is worth continued investment. His regrettable contract will expire at season’s end. There is likely no way to recoup his lost performance vs. the club’s investment. While many fans were calling for Cecil to be cut even before spring began, the club respected their agreement and gave him one more spring to prove he could be healthy and effective. He accomplished neither task.
Cecil is not likely to pitch for the Cardinals again. At some point very soon the club will need space on the 40-man roster, and if Cecil can’t be moved to the 60-man IL permanently, the front office will give him his release, eat the rest of the contract, and probably never sign a high-priced free-agent reliever again.
How should we remember the Brett Cecil era? I think we can remember that he was once very good. And there was his pretty good 2017 season. We’ll always have that. Otherwise, I hope the front office remembers that they don’t actually have to play Cecil just because they’re paying him.
You really read all 824 words on Brett Cecil? Wow. Thanks, mom!