So we're gallivanting around Niagara-on-the-Lake this weekend, hitting various and sundry wineries along the way, when one of our companions points out to us that "Brett Cecil had to be the quietest 15-game winner" he'd ever come across.
Being the cordial type that we are, we went along with the line of discussion. Actually, we didn't. We got all snooty and all "pfftt, wins are a stupid stat" and then tried to demonstrate our baseball acumen to a minivan full of mostly indifferent (though vaguely tolerant) wine drinkers.
But when the vino cloud pushed on and we had some time to think about it, there was something to what he was saying. If you'd asked us on the spot that day what Brett Cecil's record was last year, we would have figured 11-9, or 12-10, rather than the 15-7 that he actually posted. And while his won-loss is likely a bad way of gauging his worth, our teachable moment here was that we'd almost completely neglected our bespectacled hero when we considered the 2011 campaign.
Mostly, we've been focused on seeing Brandon Morrow emerge into something of otherworldly splendor, or seeing Ricky Romero become a wiser and wicked dealer at the top of the rotation. We also pictured Kyle Drabek's emergence, and the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, which would be won by someone so deserving (Zach Stewart) that they'd dazzle and amaze.
But Cecil? The dude who had us writing love poems to his thighs and they power they generated in his delivery? The dude who dazzled us with his ability to pitch blind (or at least without his glasses)? We'd pretty much put him in the corner. (And pause for you all to shout out the obvious Dirty Dancing punchline here.)
Looking at the more interesting numbers from last year, it stands to reason that Cecil would come into the year as the number three starter. His FIP of 4.03 ranked him behind Morrow (3.16) and RickRo (3.64), and puts him in a neighbourhood of pitchers such as Jonathan Sanchez, Tim Hudson and Carl Pavano. Which isn't bad, but wouldn't be your ace-type pitcher if you played in a real man's division of professional baseball.
Meanwhile, Cecil's K/9 of 6.10 was too low for us to start thinking about his impending world domination, though his low walk rate (2.81 per nine) outshone Romero's (3.51) and Morrow's (4.06), and keeping free runners of the basepaths is no small measure of future success. Cecil also did a decent job last year of keeping the ball on the ground (44.2% groundballs) while having the lowest percentage of line drives hit off him of those three returning starters (17.6%).
We're droning on here, and we can sense your eyes glazing over like Ban roll-on dispensers. But to sum up quickly, our point is that Brett Cecil will probably end up as the third-best pitcher in the rotation after all is said and done this year, but that's not a bad spot to end up. Cecil is still just 24 years old, and the youngest amongst the top three returning starters. He's also younger, than Rzep, Jesse Litsch, Brad Mills, Bobby Ray and Jo-Jo Reyes for that matter, and just a year and five months older than Drabek. So there's still plenty of upside to anticipate from him, and every possibility that he emerges into a top of the rotation arm within the next two seasons.