Thursday, April 21, 2011

Goodbye Brett.

Well, the stunning news trending across MLB and the Blue Jays twitterverse is the demotion of Brett Cecil for the unforgettable Chris Woodward. Unforgettable, of course, in the sense that I can't forget the many months that JP Ricciardi spent trying to fashion a starting shortstop out of a guy who was lucky to even be in the big leagues in the first place. On the strength of a solid 2002 season which saw him hit 13 jacks (3 of them in one game), Blue Jay management thought that a starter had been born. Although I must admit I got a little caught up in the excitement that surrounded this game, the excitement had long since worn off by the time the 2004 season expired.

It's funny. In 2004, Blue Jays Nation was ready for the Russ Adams era to begin, and starting a rangeless utility infielder with little power and a sub-.300 OBP no longer seemed like such a great idea. Little did we know at the time that Russ Adams (drafted with the 14th overall pick in his draft) would, by age 30, have similar career rate stats to Woody (drafted in the 54th round in his), in even fewer plate appearances. For Adams, a marginal AAA career can only be termed an unmitigated failure, while for Woody a career as a AAAA player and $5M in career earnings must be far better than he ever bargained for.

Anyway - back to Cecil. What happened to his arm strength? Injury? Illness? Too much time spent attacking fans on twitter? Not to be judgmental, but this kind of immature defensiveness is EXACTLY the kind of thing that must drive cliche-coaches and management personnel nuts. First rule of the internet: don't feed the trolls. The remarkable thing about having athletes on twitter is that it transforms their godlike feats into something human, but humans are weak and fickle creatures. Some people want to worship their athletes - think of the children! - and having a young pitcher lash out at a fan is exactly the kind of thing that destroys that illusion.

I'm not saying that Cecil's demotion directly reflects the fact that he cussed out a 20-year-old budding journalist ("journalist," a la Dan Shaughnessy, no doubt) on twitter. More likely it's the diminished velo and the 6.86 ERA. But the immaturity can't help matters, and as Joanna points out, to the naked eye it appears as if, for all his denials, he is trying to hump up and throw harder on the mound. I imagine it's that internal conflict - that indecision - that is in some small part leading to his worrisome results. Cecil needs to "get it together," sure, but I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that he will come back and be a great pitcher. Remember, he struggled quite a bit in 2009 and early in 2010 as well; it was only in July, in a series in the Bronx, that he began to put it together. The more I think about Cecil's career arc, the more I think Nuke Laloosh; not because he's crazy wild but just because he seems to rely on his catcher and his pitching coach to get him through jams more than a Ricky Romero or a Roy Halladay.

I'm using a lot of wiggle words and a lot of unfair comparisons here, but that's because we can't possibly know what's going on inside Cecil's mind or the Blue Jays clubhouse, so this will all be conjecture, and in certain cases stats don't tell the whole story. The truth is, I haven't seen Cecil pitch on TV much at all this year - I've missed two of his games for work and was sitting in the right field stands for a third, not an ideal place from which to evaluate a pitcher. All I've noticed is the general wildness which seems infectious on the majors' most walk-friendly staff.
So who will get the start in his absence? Lot of names being thrown out there, but let me vouch for two. Carlos Villaneuva, of the 2 hits in 10 2/3 innings so far this year, and Brad Mills, of the 0.82 ERA in AAA. I had thought Villaneuva had a full season as a starter under his belt, but apparently I hadn't been paying attention - his career high is nine. But he has 400 major league innings under his belt, is stretched out in the pen, and profiles very well as a one-time spot start, presuming Litsch is brought up. On the other hand, if the Jays are looking for a longer-term rotation candidate, it's difficult to ignore Mills' terrific early numbers in Vegas.

1 comment:

  1. i think Brett's problem is as much attitude-related as anything else. The kid's clearly got the stuff required to be a successful big leagues pitcher, its just his ability to harness that talent this year has been woeful. hopefully he will sort his shit out in AAA. in the meantime, i wouldn't mind seeing Mills given another chance