ST. LOUIS -- Though Cardinals left-handed reliever Brett Cecil has identified a mechanical issue that could explain his early-season struggles, he acknowledged that his first impression with his new team has thus far been "embarrassing."
Cecil, who served up a homer to Thomas La Stella that proved to be the game-winner in Friday's 3-2 loss to the Cubs, has allowed a run in four consecutive appearances for the first time as a reliever. And he's having particular trouble against left-handed hitters, who are batting a combined .464/.500/.929 with a 1.429 OPS against the 30-year-old lefty reliever.
It's a jarring slash line, especially when compared to the .218/.270/.310 one he posted with Toronto from 2013-16.
"I know I have a good track record," Cecil said. "Obviously, I know I can get guys out. And these are struggles I've dealt with before. But coming to a new team, nobody really knows you, especially coming from a different league. You sign that contract and you're expected to come in here and fill a role and do a job and you're not able to do it, it's embarrassing."
Cecil believes his troubles with pitch location and crispness are the byproduct of his body flying open during his delivery. The delivery kink has inhibited his ability to stay back long enough and get the proper momentum toward the plate.
That may explain why 64.1 percent of his pitches have been located in the lower third of the zone or out of the zone low, according to Statcast™. Last year, that percentage was 39.5.
Cecil remains confident that he can pull himself out of this funk, mostly because he has before. He cited his 2015 season as an example. Cecil allowed 15 runs and had a 5.96 ERA 26 appearances into that season. He didn't allow an earned run in any of his final 37 outings.
"I just have to be able to slow the game down when I get out there," Cecil said of correcting his mechanics. "I can do it in the 'pen all day, but you let the game speed up on you and you fall right back into place where you were. It's really up to me to slow the game down and really just focus on staying back."
The Cardinals, who signed Cecil to a four-year, $30.5 million contract in November, haven't seen him able to neutralize left-handed batters the way they anticipated. After allowing five homers in 369 plate appearances versus left-handers the last four seasons, Cecil has already served up three in 2017.
Statcast™ data shows that Cecil is allowing a higher exit velocity, higher launch angle and more barrels to left-handed hitters than he did in Toronto as well.
If there's a silver lining, though, perhaps it's this: Cecil has also been a bit unlucky. Seven of the 13 hits he's allowed to left-handed hitters had a hit probability of 34 percent or less. That included La Stella's home run, which, with an exit velocity of 101.6 mph and launch angle of 40 degrees, had a 25 percent hit probability.
The result has been a great discrepancy between left-handed hitters' expected batting average (.280) and their actual (.464).
"We're seeing some really good outings from him and then some others that don't look like what we've seen from him in the past and what we knew he was doing before in Toronto," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's going to get lefties out in big situations. Just right now it's a little tough to come by."