Brett Cecil got hurt Wednesday, but I don't think anyone is shocked.
There are some players who become perennial punching bags for the fan base. They either didn't amount to what was promised, refused to even perform competently, or couldn't stay healthy enough to be what was promised.
Cecil has done all of that and then some in his three seasons in St. Louis. Formerly known as a competent back-end member of a Major League bullpen, Cecil has transformed into the annual "wish upon a star" pitcher for the Cardinals.
When asked about him in January, President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak sounded like someone just asked for his thoughts on quantum physics.
He had little idea about what the team could expect from a guy making $7 million dollars per season. Cecil is making that amount of money this season to have no role, no place, and little hope of even staying on the active roster. How is that for a "never do it again" contract?
But the truth is, the Cecil contract wasn't a terrible contract. He came to the Cardinals after producing four impressive seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays. Cecil put up FIP marks of 2.88, 2.34, 2.34, and 3.64 for Toronto from 2013-17. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, a stat that shows how effective a pitcher is at collecting outs without the benefit of his defense. In other words, Cecil could strike guys out. He averaged over ten strikeouts per nine innings and was reliable for the Blue Jays in a number of roles.
In St. Louis, he's excelled at one role: Being a disappointment. I remember the first month of the 2018 season where Cecil served up a game-winning home run at Busch Stadium to Kyle Schwarber. I think that's where the fans started hating him, and the tree grew from there. 2017 actually wasn't a bad season for Cecil if you look back at FIP, ERA, and strikeout to walk ratio. Again, the contract plays a big part here in how fans view his production.
Here's the thing. Only Aroldis Chapman was the better left-handed reliever on the market that offseason. Cecil had tamed the ferocious bats of the American League East for several seasons, so why would Mozeliak think he was going to self-destruct so quickly in St. Louis?
I think the four years were one too many on the contract, but the money was right in line with what most top flight relievers were getting. Cecil was a hot commodity, but he is a signing that hasn't worked out in any positive way. There's no other way to slice it. He has been afflicted by numerous injuries, including a mysterious injury last spring where he couldn't feel two of the fingers on his throwing hand. According to then Cardinals reporter Jenifer Langosch, the team feared Cecil was experiencing a pinch in his shoulder with each pitch.
Today, it was a hamstring issue that caused his departure from the game. Who knows what Cecil will rank higher in this coming season? Amount of games without a single MLB pitch thrown or the amount of video games played while making the second highest salary of the bullpen behind Andrew Miller.
Miller is another spring casualty this month, coming down with another mysterious ailment that left him without much feeling in his hand. He's on the mend, but will most likely miss the beginning of the regular season. Miles Mikolas is down for awhile, which means the rotation will be walking somewhat wounded to begin the season. This is where Cecil could come in and save the day for the group-but alas, no dice there.
I think fans are simply fed up with him. He's been a big disappointment since a halfway decent first season. He's eating up salary instead of innings and the bats of hitters. There's no real upward tilt in sight for him, which cancels any trace of hope from the fans. He wasn't what was expected and may be one of Mozeliak's worst signings. He makes the Dexter Fowler contract look good. Imagine that.
At this point, if you haven't already, it'd be best to not expect much of anything from Cecil. Take Mozeliak's stance and just act bewildered when asked about his chances. Something happened to his pitching when he joined the Cardinals in the National League. Maybe he got broke along the way. There is no real answer, and the stats will only make you cringe. Here's one for you: In 2018, Cecil allowed a 1.96 WHIP, which is absolutely terrible for a reliever. That means he's putting at least two hitters on base per inning on average. Yikes.
When Cecil was signed, I had hope he could develop into a closer-setup type weapon for the bullpen. I figured there'd be drop-off in the final season, but none before then. Boy was I wrong.
Once again, Cecil got hurt this week, and literally no one was shocked. It's the usual at this point. If anything, he will live on as a reminder to Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt Jr. as a good reason NEVER to hand out four year expensive contracts to relievers.
The Cecil experiment will have ramifications for the next 15-20 years on how the Cardinals operate in the free agent market. That wasn't the intent, but then again, sometimes you learn the hard way.