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Entries in Toronto Blue Jays (32)


Brett Cecil, Righties and Big Flies

Are the Blue Jays buying or selling pitching? Maybe both. While Toronto has been linked to the likes of Gavin Floyd and Joe Blanton, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports Tweets that teams are inquiring on Kyle Drabek and Brett Cecil. Rosenthal says the Jays are reluctant to move Drabek (whose control woes we covered last week) with his stock way down. Cecil, 25, was a serviceable starter in 2010. But the lefty also underachieved last year by giving up lots of fly balls -- and subsequently  long balls -- to right-handed hitters.

In 2010, Cecil served up 15 home runs to righty batters and allowed them to slug .438 (the average for lefty starters vs. righty hitters is about 30 points below that). Last year, though, right-handers popped 22 homers despite Cecil's innings pitched total dipping from 172.2 to 123.2, and they slugged .539. Every homer that Cecil gave up in '11 came against righties. With opposite-handed batters mauling him, Cecil's HR/9 jumped from 0.9 to 1.6, and his ERA+ declined from 99 to 90.

Cecil threw more pitches high in the strike zone to righties (35%, compared to 31% in 2010), and his fly ball rate against them spiked from 34% to 46%. Check out his fly ball rate by pitch location vs. right-handers in 2010, and then 2011. Righties lofted most anything he tossed in the upper third of the zone last year:

Cecil's fly ball rate by pitch location, 2010

Cecil's fly ball rate by pitch location, 2011He had an especially hard time keeping his sinker down. Cecil threw 31% of his sinkers high in the zone in 2010, but that increased to 42% during his homer-prone 2011. He also lost velocity on the pitch, averaging 88.5 mph after throwing it 89.3 mph in 2010. Not surprisingly, Cecil gave up 12 HR on sinkers last year, compared to seven in 2010.

Cecil apparently was one of baseball's Biggest Losers over the winter, shedding 35 pounds from his formerly 250 pound frame. But adding velocity and sink to his pitches against righties (and avoiding bad-intentioned blenders) will determine whether he returns to form in 2012, be it in Toronto or elsewhere.


Kyle Drabek's Strike Zone Woes

A former top-30 prospect initially considered the big get in the December 2009 Roy Halladay deal, Kyle Drabek enters 2012 simply hoping to prove to the Blue Jays that he can catch the plate often enough to serve as the club's fifth starter. Drabek walked 6.3 batters per nine innings in the majors last year, and his wildness didn't improve much in Triple-A, either (4.9 per nine).

Despite those control woes, ESPN's Keith Law (Insider subscription required) included the 24-year-old Drabek on his list of young players primed for better things this season. Here's Law's prescription for Drabek's Steve Blass Disease:

Drabek didn't lose velocity, but the overthrowing cost him command and flattened out his slider, while his curveball -- his best pitch in the minors -- became almost a weapon of last resort. The Blue Jays have been working with Drabek on keeping his delivery on line to the plate and keeping himself calm on the mound, but they might also need to tinker with his pitch selection and get him throwing that plus breaking ball more.

While Drabek got love from scouts in the minors for his knockout breaking pitches, they were barely used in 2011. He threw his slider about 8% of the time, and his curveball 4%. Drabek often missed below the knees with his breaking stuff:

Drabek's curveball and slider location, 2011

Just under 31% of his curves and sliders were thrown within the strike zone, the lowest rate among starting pitchers who tossed at least 150 breakers in 2011:

Kyle Drabek 30.5%
J. A. Happ 31.8%
Dillon Gee 33.4%
Zach Britton 34.0%
Travis Wood 34.2%
Josh Johnson 34.4%
Ross Ohlendorf 34.6%
Mike Minor 34.9%
Chris Narveson 36.4%
Clay Hensley 37.4%


The main reason that Drabek all but shelved his breaking stuff is that his poor fastball location so often put him in hitter's counts. He tried to pound right-handed hitters inside and stay on the outside corner versus lefties, but he just ended up missing off the plate to the arm side:

Drabek's fastball location, 2011

He also brought up the rear among starters in fastball control, putting the lowest percentage of heaters in the zone:

Kyle Drabek 39.0%
Brian Duensing 40.0%
Barry Zito 41.3%
Randall Delgado 41.6%
Livan Hernandez 41.6%
Hiroki Kuroda 43.3%
Carlos Villanueva 43.6%
Ryan Vogelsong 44.2%
Luis Mendoza 44.4%
Aaron Cook 44.5%


Law mentioned Drabek overthrowing, and the numbers suggest that when he reached back for more, his control did indeed get worse. Drabek had a 40 Zone% when throwing his fastball between 90-92 mph, but 34% when he threw 93-94 mph. With so few heaters in the zone, hitters swung at just 38% of Drabek's fastballs (the MLB average was 45%).

For Drabek, as is the case with most other hurlers, his success rides on his ability to locate his fastball. In 2011, he got into an all-too-predictable pattern of throwing a first-pitch fastball (71% of the time), missing (just 37% caught the plate) and then essentially being left without the option of going to his typically plus breaking pitches. And in response, hitters just stopped swinging at the fastball and let Drabek bury himself. Without fastball control, a great curveball or slider ceases to matter.


Travis Snider on the Outside

By now, Travis Snider and his rockin' mustache were supposed to be anchoring the middle of the Toronto Blue Jays' lineup. The lefty slugger with the Matt Stairs-like build ranked as Baseball America's sixth-best prospect prior to the 2009 season and raked to the tune of a .306/.379/.522 line in the minors, but he has hit just .248/.307/.423 in parts of four MLB seasons while hampered by a right wrist injury.

Now 24, Snider enters spring training behind Eric Thames in left field and Edwin Encarnacion at DH. With one minor league option year remaining, he's looking at the prospect of another stint at Triple-A Las Vegas. Snider's main issue in the majors to this point -- which might be related to his bum wrist -- is that he's not making contact or driving pitches thrown away.

Take a look at Snider's contact rate by pitch location from 2008-11, compared to the league average for left-handed hitters:

Snider's contact rate by pitch location, 2008-11Average contact rate by pitch location for left-handed hitters, 2008-11Snider has missed 28% of pitches thrown on the outside corner in the majors, way above the 21% league average for lefty hitters since 2008. And when he does make contact on outside pitches, Snider hasn't inflicted much pain. His .356 slugging percentage on outside offerings is 22 points below the league average for lefty batters.

Travis Snider is far from a lost cause -- he's still young, has a history of hitting for power and has had an offseason to heal from the wrist tendinitis that ended his 2011 campaign. But whether through renewed health or a change in plate approach, he has got to improve against outside pitches if he wants to get back in the Jays' long-term plans.  

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