It was only last year that we saw Dylan Cease move his fastball around all the great parts of the plate, and get his breaking balls to dart in the zone and dive below it. Granted, those appearances were in separate abbreviated preseason outings months apart, but they were the product of concentrated efforts to solve his biggest problems with hitting the mitt.
Alas, he regressed when the regular season rolled around. The unwanted cut on his fastball returned home to ride out the pandemic with him, and the control issues beneath everything prevented him from being able to pitch backward.
So there’s a little bit of fool-me-twice apprehension when reading the second round of spring enthusiasm for Cease, even if he has a new pitching coach tasked with (core velocity) belting some sense into him. Yasmani Grandal made for some shareable tweets with an exciting first impression of Cease’s 2021 form …
“I feel like if we get him to where we see him going, this guy could be a Cy Young finalist,” Grandal said Thursday. “He could possibly be a Cy Young winner. He’s got the tools to do it, there’s no doubt on that.”
… except when Grandal mentioned the steps it’d take to get there …
“Now it just comes down to the process and making sure he gets to do and sees the vision that we have for him, and the future is only going to dictate whether we can get him to be what we want him to be or not.”
… it sorta echoed what he’d said about Cease at SoxFest last year.
“A lot of times, we tend to overthink everything,” said Grandal. “To a young guy, I’ve been there. I thought too much about my swing, how I catch, and how I throw. I keep coming back to this because I had to learn this lesson, but everything is a process. When it comes to Cease, we will get him to understand the natural flow and his natural ability to take over. After that, he’ll be a done deal and be ready to go.”
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But it wouldn’t be spring if we didn’t entertain a little bit of hype, especially since the offseason decisions and his spot on the team are already firmly in place. He’s opening the team as the No. 4 starter regardless of his initial form, with hopes that he’ll be able to challenge Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel or Lance Lynn for a postseason start after diminishing returns in 2020 relegated him to relief work during the Wild Card series. If he still can’t get it together? Well, you cross your fingers that Michael Kopech can pass him on the depth chart, after which Cease, Reynaldo López and any other promising contributors can slug it out for the fifth spot.
The acquisition of Lynn means that Cease only has to be decent to serve his purpose on the team. There’s no danger in dreaming beyond that.
Grandal’s quotes go even further. Hell, when you look at Cease’s PECOTA projections by percentile, Grandal’s vision of a Cy Young finalist are literally off the charts.
Below is a summary of Cease’s PECOTA percentiles. I’ve highlighted the median projection, with his career to date below it, since they conveniently cover a similar workload:
The median projection isn’t scintillating, but it actually reflects modest improvement in his run prevention abilities. It’s a pessimistic forecast that’s still within range of the other systems. Turn the optimism dial up one notch, and PECOTA arrives to ZiPS’ projection for Cease in terms of run prevention (4.48 ERA), with a second notch covering the peripherals (4.60 FIP, 11.3% BB, 22.8% K).
Now, to get where Cease is a Cy Young finalist, PECOTA says you basically have to twist that dial until the spindle snaps. Yet it’s not outside the realm of possibility when you look at the walks. Even Cease’s perfect-world projections can’t envision him lowering his walk rate to league average, which was 8.3 percent for starters last year.
And for good reason — Cease’s walk rate has hovered above 10 percent for the entirety of his professional career, save his 9.7 percent walk rate in Winston-Salem back in 2018. He just may never be a typical strike-thrower, and that’s fine since it’s not his main problem. His strikeout rate is what holds him back. He had just a 3.9 percent gap between his K and BB rates last year, which is why PECOTA’s worst scenarios project him beyond Broken Jason Bere territory.
Basically, the bad news about Cease is the good news. He’s been so off-kilter over the course of his first 26 starts that even one attainable development can right the ship, and his stuff is so powerful that it can take a couple other attainable developments and multiply the effects. My tendency toward pragmatism says to take it step by step, but if you don’t mind getting carried away, I suppose now is the ideal time for it.
(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)
Good article. While I have not been enamored with Cease’s performance and struggle with his command, his stuff is so good that like Giolito, he needs to be given room to pitch even if he struggles for a little while. He might start off mediocre and have a great 2nd half, but he has to be in the mix no matter what as long as he is healthy. Whether he makes massive strides this year or not, even if he takes a half step forward he will be a solid number 4, with the potential for better. I see him and Kopech as the keys to whether the rebuild is going to be a success or not, really. They will be keys to 2021 as well.
Good article – Agree
Cease near future – See the same things. Would be great if he hits it.
Cease and Kopech keys to the rebuild – Quintana and Sale trades gored rotation. Plan was for eventual upgrade with these two. Are we that smart that this would work? If only.
Giolito struggled through an entire season in 2018 without getting better. Only over the off season did he make those improvements.
He could have been demoted to AAA and he might have worked out just as well.
Cease could hypothetically be demoted to AAA this year if he isn’t doing well for the big league club. He could also be moved to the bullpen and try to work on himself there.
I agree that he’s too talented not to keep giving chances. I’m just not convinced that if he has 10 bad starts to begin the year we should leave him in the rotation while we chase a division title.
Especially since he still has MiLB options and he could be useful in long relief.
I’ll take Cease over anything they will get from Rodon or Lopez. Cease would have to take a big step backwards to be at the level we saw from those two in 2019 and 2020. Cease was not great last year but nowhere close to getting sent down to the minors. If anybody needs time in the minors, it’s Lopez.
ReyLo was demonstrably better in 2019 than 2020 Cease. Neither one of them are a good option for the back of a rotation so they both need to improve.
Did you mean 2018? How do you conclude that Lopez with a 5.38 ERA in 2019 is better than Cease with an ERA of 4.01 in 2020? It’s not personal preference, it’s the numbers. I’ll go with the guy with an ERA almost 1 and a half runs lower, even acknowledging that Cease was probably lucky it was not higher. I’ll give you that Lopez was better than Cease, only if that was a typo and you meant his 2018 season.
I agree they both need to improve, but Cease in 2020 was good enough to be a number 5 at least. The same cannot be said about Lopez since his 2018 season. I hope all their pitchers are healthy, the rest will take care of itself.
It depends on which numbers you’re looking at.
2019 Lopez: 5.04 FIP, 2.3 fWAR
2020 Cease: 6.36 FIP, -0.4 fWAR
By those numbers, Lopez was demonstrably better in ’19 than Cease in ’20. But, of course, somehow ’20 Lopez (7.63 FIP, -0.5 fWAR) was even worse than ’20 Cease.
ERA is a more straighforward metric. Much more meaningful to me than anything that is going to lead someone to conclude that someone is a better pitcher than another on the same team whose ERA is nearly 1.5 lower. Lopez was awful in both 2019 and 2020, more so than Cease was in 2020 for anybody that watched them both, clearly. Cease was not great either, so on the topic will end with saying that they both need to improve to contribute. I think Cease is going to have a very good season under Katz.
I thought cutting was suppose to be a good thing?
If you are trying to throw a cutter, more cut is better.
But if you are trying to throw a four-seam fastball with good ride/rise, the cut (i.e., spin off of the vertical axis) detracts from the effectiveness of the backspin and reduces the ride/rise, making the pitch much more hittable (despite some horizontal movement induced by the cutting action). At least that is what my recent online “research” leads me to understand.
The unintentional cut also does two really bad things:
1) it makes it harder to command the pitch. And Cease needs every last tiny bit of command/control he can get to avoid those walks.
2) the ball literally cuts in the direction of the sweet spot of the bat. That leads to more barrels and therefore homers.
It’s the second one which really hurts him the most. Cease’s fastball is really really good (in velo) and batters tend to swing under it or behind it, up in the zone.
Except if the FB cuts straight into the barrel then the “bad” swing batters put onto the pitch + it’s incoming velocity turns inferior hitters into elite sluggers.