Rizzo, Votto: Meet Brett Cecil

When the news broke a few weeks ago that the Cardinals had signed Brett Cecil to a 4 year, $30.5 million contract, I was a little upset, because that meant that I wouldn’t be seeing to see as much of this in the future:

Thank Blog that this is a GIF, because I could watch that on loop forever. Brett Cecil’s curveball was a weapon against left-handed hitters; it was his dominant pitch in terms of usage, and was his go-to pitch when he was in a favourable count, and it was his wipe-out pitch needed a strikeout, as seen in the table below (from Brooks Baseball):

Brett Cecil 2016 Pitch Usage Against Left Handed Hitters

Against LHH Fourseam Sinker Cutter Curve
All Counts 25% 19% 9% 48%
First Pitch 22% 28% 15% 35%
Batter Ahead 27% 16% 11% 46%
Even 23% 26% 13% 38%
Pitcher Ahead 25% 11% 3% 61%
Two Strikes 30% 3% 0% 68%

Old Foes

That curveball led to a lot of this:

Did you see that? Yeah, there was a filthy strikeout there, but what I’ll really miss is the frustration of Chris Davis and David Ortiz as they walked away after their strikeouts, shaking their damn heads. While Ortiz was a career .219 hitter against Cecil (and had a career .793 OPS), Cecil struck out Ortiz 10 times over the slugger’s career at a rate of 31.25%. (2016 was kind of another story, in which Ortiz owned Cecil, with a slash of .750 / .750 / 1.500, and tacked on 3 runs to of his career total 5 RBI against Cecil, but David Ortiz was owning just about everyone in 2016 anyway.)

Chris Davis was a career .130 hitter against Brett Cecil, having faced him 23 times. Cecil struck him out 11 out of those 23 times (47.8%), and Davis only ever managed three hits against Cecil; none were for extra bases. Brett Cecil had become the anti-lefty slugger for the Blue Jays, and Chris Davis will surely be glad to see him pitching in another division.

Welcome to the NL Central

Luckily for Cecil, most of the top left-handed sluggers play in the National League. This obviously was a factor in the Cardinals’ decision to sign Cecil, as the table below shows the top left-handed hitters in the majors last year, by slugging percentage:

David Ortiz .315 .401 .620 1.021
Daniel Murphy .347 .390 .595 .985
Freddie Freeman .302 .400 .569 .968
Charlie Blackmon .324 .381 .552 .933
Joey Votto .326 .434 .550 .985
Anthony Rizzo .292 .385 .544 .928
Carlos Santana .256 .374 .541 .915
Robinson Cano .298 .350 .533 .882
Corey Seager .308 .365 .512 .877
Jake Lamb .249 .332 .509 .840

And unfortunately for Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo, who play in the NL Central Division, they’ll be seeing a whole lot more of Brett Cecil with the St. Louis Cardinals.

According to Brooks Baseball, in 2016, Brett Cecil’s curveball resulted in a .188 average, and a .188 slugging percentage. And, if you re-watch those estrikeout GIFs up there (go ahead, you know you want to), you’ll notice that Cecil’s curveball starts in the zone, and then tails low and away from left-handed hitters. That’s where Cecil loves to put his curveball, as you can see by the heat map for his curveball to lefties below (this is from the catcher’s perspective, where a left-handed hitter would be to the right of the zone):

brett cecil 2016 - curveball location vs. left handed hitters

That red spot? Yeah. Let’s call that the Cecil Zone.

He threw that curveball low and away 34.75% of the time in 2016, and the result? Take a look:

Brett Cecil - Heatmap for Curveballs vs LHH in 2016

That’s a .182 average in the Cecil Zone in 2016.

So what does that mean for Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo?

Trouble with the curve?

You probably already know that we love unabashedly Joey Votto around here, but how will Votto be able to handle the Cecil curve?

Here are Votto’s career numbers against curveballs from lefties, broken down by zone:

In the Cecil Zone (bottom left hand corner of the zone), Votto is a career .100 hitter against curves from lefties. Again, we’re using batting average here, so note that those are only 2 instances in his career in which Votto has put that pitch into play. Now, Votto has a career .900 OPS against left-handed pitchers, and will still take his fair share of walks against lefties (career .399 OBP – side note, that’s just insane). It will be interesting to see whether he bites on those down and away curveballs, or if Brett Cecil can hit that spot consistently; otherwise, Joey Votto might make him pay dearly.

Fo’ Rizzo

Speaking of paying dearly, how does Anthony Rizzo fare against lefty curveballs?

Similar to Votto, Rizzo’s heatmap is littered with high averages in zones where lefties have left breaking balls over the plate. Rizzo is more likely than Votto to swing at pitches in the Cecil Zone (denoted by his 35.34% swing rate in the Cecil Zone vs. Votto’s 18.38%), and is less even likely to turn that in to a base hit.

Mind you, that doesn’t mean Rizzo isn’t capable of doing damage on curveballs in the Cecil Zone:

So what does it all mean, Basil?

Brett Cecil has a great curveball. Anthony Rizzo and Joey Votto are great hitters. They’re going to be playing each other far more frequently than they have in the past, and when they matchup, it will be fun to watch. If Brett Cecil can get Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo to chase curveballs the Cecil Zone, they may have as frustrating a time as Chris Davis or David Ortiz have had against Cecil. If they can be patient and pick their spots as hitters, Cecil could be challeneged.

As a Blue Jays fan, I don’t know who I’ll be rooting for; I love Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo (they’re both fun! they’re both awesome!), and I really like Brett Cecil, and I thought he was underappreciated by Blue Jays fans (and I know others agree) and I want to see him be successful with the Cardinals. I think he’s earned that. And a huge part of whether or not he’ll be viewed as a success in St. Louis is whether or not he can be effective against Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo. If you’re like me and on the fence about this, take solace in knowing that either way, we’ll get more awesome strikeout GIFs, or we could get more home run clips. But regardless of either of those outcomes, at least it’s going to be fun to watch.


Dave is the Managing Editor of BunttotheGap.com. He lives in Toronto, is staunchly #TeamDog, and has been to 18 of 30 MLB ballparks. You can contact him at dave@bunttothegap.com.