On Brett Cecil, Ignorance, and the Illusion of Happiness

There is a famous French novel from the revolutionary period written by Claire de Duras titled Ourika. It deals with, among many other themes, the question of whether ignorance truly is bliss. Ourika is a black woman who was brought to France at the age of two from Senegal where she was orphaned and destined to become a slave in some western country. She grows up in a privileged white household and does not realize that she is different from those around her, until she one day overhears a conversation about how she is headed for a life of loneliness and solitude because no high class Frenchman will want to marry a black woman. Following that episode, her life goes into a tailspin that sees her spend the majority of the short novel questioning her existence, and whether or not she would have been better off being a slave anywhere in the world than being “free” in France.

The Blue Jays season ended on Wednesday evening. It’s finished. They won’t be playing a regular season game again until April. When they do, the roster is likely to look different than it did at the Rogers Centre on that summer-like autumn day earlier this week. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will likely be hitting home runs for separate teams, unable to congratulate each other after each ball leaves their respective ballparks. R.A. Dickey is going to be fluttering his knuckleball in a different city, probably one that houses a National League team that could be more conducive to his style of pitching. Those players seem like they are the Toronto Blue Jays. What is this team without its bash brothers? What is it without the insight and stability that comes from its knuckleballer? So many memories have been made recently, and these guys were huge parts of it.

Then, there’s Brett Cecil. The longest tenured Blue Jays player on the roster in 2016 is set to become a free agent for the first time in his life once the World Series ends. The man has been with the organization since 2007. He’s seen J.P. Ricciardi, Alex Anthopoulos, and now Ross Atkins. Yet, the city has a strange relationship with Cecil. He’s been the epitome of familiarity to this franchise over the years; a symbol of the past and present. But, that has not been enough for some fans. Year in and year out, Cecil and his family have been the subject of hateful vitriol and online harassment from the people of Toronto. It didn’t matter how good he performed, some people always found a way to blame him for the Blue Jays’ shortcomings.

After making his big league debut in 2009, Brett Cecil took a common route to becoming a relief ace. He failed as a starter for four seasons before finally making the full time switch to reliever. Normally, when starters do this, they do so to play up their fastball, allowing them to have more success with that pitch due to increased velocity. This was definitely true for Cecil, who averaged just 89.6 mph on his fastball as a starter, compared to 92.1 mph as a reliever. But what allowed Cecil to have success as a reliever wasn’t the fastball velocity – though it didn’t hurt. Rather, it was his curveball, the one he used just 10.23% of the time as a rookie in 2009, but as 46.13% of his pitches in his 2016 campaign.

It’s not just any curveball. It’s been one of the best curveballs in baseball over the past four seasons. It has been a thing of beauty – one of the reasons to turn Blue Jays games on over the years. Since becoming a reliever full time in 2013, Cecil pitched in 205 regular season innings across 243 games. He registered an ERA of just 2.90 in that span, including a period at the end of the 2015 season where he didn’t allow a run from June 22nd until 2016. In his four seasons as a reliever, Cecil used his repertoire to register a 30.5% strikeout percentage. However, his walk percentage in that time was 8.3%, and that is my best guess as to why he is so disliked.

There is something about walks that turns people off. I don’t understand it, because way more often than not, Brett Cecil was a sight to see in his Toronto tenure. He walked a few too many batters, but walks are just walks, and at the end of the day, if a pitcher is able to pitch over 200 innings with a walk rate of over eight percent but still limit the damage to under an ERA of 3.00, well, don’t you have to applaud that? Don’t you have to recognize him as one of the game’s elite relievers? Certainly one of baseball’s best left handed relievers, at the very least.

If Brett’s time in Toronto ended on Wednesday night, it was a very fitting way for him to go out. He faced three batters, two of them lefties. 50% of the pitches he threw were curveballs. Three up, three down. No walks needed. As he leaped off the mound, the sluggish Toronto crowd seemed to be unaware that their longest serving player might have just ended his eight year career with the team. Few fans stood and clapped. Those who did, did so loud and majestically. It’s as if Cecil’s entire Blue Jays career took place within that thirty second span. He was fantastic, yet, to an outside observer, it would have seemed like he didn’t even exist. He could have done anything on that mound, and the reception would have been the same.

Maybe Brett is our Ourika. Fans have been ignorant about him since the beginning. They seemed to have been happy only when he struggled and they were able to aim their vulgarities at him. But what is that? That isn’t happiness. That’s some demonic feeling of being able to say “I told you so” once in a while. All this time, the people could have been appreciating Cecil for what he has been – one of the greatest relievers this franchise has ever seen. Instead, they chose ignorance and a false sense of happiness.

It’s ironic that the last quote Cecil gave to the Toronto media was “If I don’t come back, seeing this place full is what I’m going to miss.” Of all the players on the Blue Jays, he never truly got to have that full stadium behind him, cheering him on as he did his job. Instead, there were always people who wished to see him fail, drowning out those of us who saw him for who he truly was – the kind hearted lefty with the get-me-over fastball and the devastating curveball.

Lead Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

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12 comments on “On Brett Cecil, Ignorance, and the Illusion of Happiness”


I`ve never understood how or why Cecil became such a focal point for some fans`intense negativity. At this point, I wonder if this will factor into the Jays`chances of bringing him back. It certainly won`t help.

Gideon Turk

I’d hope decisions aren’t made based on who is a fan favourite or not, rather than based on performance, but yes, no way to tell. He’s been so good in the past, and maybe his “down” year this season will depress his market enough that he is cheap enough for Shapiro and Co. to bring back. Here’s hoping!


I’m not thinking the Jays will be influenced by the negative fans, but rather that if it comes to a tight decision for Cecil, he might be influenced to go to a team that doesn’t have a segment of fans who are pre-disposed against him.

Gideon Turk

Right, that would make sense!

Patrick Cashman

I think that Toronto should make an attempt to resign Cecil at the same money Grilli is getting. Cecil performed well in the playoffs and the shortfalls he had in the regular season could have been an after effect of his Achilles injury the previous fall.

Joshua Howsam

I imagine Cecil will cost way more than Grilli. Grilli has a $3M option, and Cecil probably gets close to twice that on a multi-year deal


“Instead, they chose ignorance and a false sense of happiness.”

The idea that “fans” are deliberately choosing to remain ignorant to attain a “false sense of happiness” about Brett Cecil’s departure (which is what seems to be implied here) is one that I totally disagree with. That only seems possible if you consider Brett Cecil in isolation in a very specific period of time with a small subset of the fan base.

First of all, a fan base is quite diverse. It’s not reasonable to expect every fan to have the same level of knowledge about a team and its players. There are fans new to the game, and people who have been fans since the early ’90s (who have maybe seen better players than Cecil). In addition, different fans will engage with the game differently. Some fans love to look at the stats; others, not so much. There isn’t really a right way to be a fan.

Secondly, I don’t get the sense that fans are happy that Cecil is leaving. Maybe it’s because I’m hanging out with a different subset of fans. I would agree that they’re not particularly disappointed about his departure, but there are obvious reasons for that if you look at what’s happening with the team, as a whole, and from a psychological point of view.

For example, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion are both leaving, and they’ve resonated with fans way more than Brett Cecil has so they’re more salient in people’s minds. I know that’s not fair to Cecil, but that’s psychology for you. I’m willing to bet that if Bautista and Encarnacion still had a year left with the Jays, and if only Brett Cecil were leaving, then fans would notice him more and lament his departure. The media would be all over that story about how he was an All-Star, his amazing 2015 year, and the fact that he’s been a Blue Jay longer than anyone else on the roster. I have no doubt that people would miss him more.

The recency effect also plays a role in how fans view a player like Brett Cecil. It’s all about “what have you done for me lately,” where “lately” typically means: “this past season.” I think most fans would agree that Cecil had an amazing 2015. If he left after last season, fans would also have been very disappointed. By comparison, Cecil appeared to have struggled quite a bit more in 2016, which lends itself to a lot of comparison biases that could make his performance this year look worse than it actually was.

Does Brett Cecil deserve more recognition for his time here? Yes. Are fans feigning happiness about his departure by deliberately ignoring Cecil’s numbers? I think that’s a bit of a stretch. That really necessitates a very sadistic, arguably sociopathic view of Blue Jays fandom, and ignores the myriad of psychological factors that influence human perception on a daily basis.

Nice Article

I always appreciated Cecil as a great left-handed reliever… I hope we sign him back. He was pressed into the set-up role earlier this year, which caused him some problems, but used more as a LOOGY he’s extremely valuable

Gideon Turk

For sure. I do think comfort is a big thing for him, as he struggled with the closer role in 2015 as well.


Cecil has been very good at times over the years, and was especially good during the last part of 2015, but he had an awful 2016 by almost any standard. He was charged with five losses and a blown save in April, virtually never pitched in May and June, and was beaten up four more times in July to send his ERA to 6.75.

He did pitch well in low-leverage situations during the second half of the season, and recorded three holds in September after Benoit got hurt, but his season was bad enough that you could make a credible claim that Cecil, by himself, cost the Jays the division title.

From what I’ve seen of him over the years, the problem is that, for him, there is a very fine line between excellence and complete ineffectiveness. This makes it difficult for a manager to rely on him in key situations.

MovieJay (@MovieJay)

For whatever reason, Cecil only sucked at closer. Despite that, he still managed to put up a sub-3.00 ERA over 200+ IP as a reliever. Looking around at the lefty options this off-season, Chapman’s in a stratosphere all his own, and I reckon he’ll stay put in Chicago. On the other end, in the bargain bin, are Eveland/Matusz/C.Ramos, the latter two each having success over the years but who each decided to suck this past season. In the middle class are Dunn/Logan/Cecil. The highest ground ball % belongs to Logan, then Cecil, then trailing them badly is Dunn. If I were GM, I’d be happy to re-sign Cecil. As a fan, my prediction is that we’ll see either Cecil or Logan in a Jays uni for next season.

Matt Moore

The passage you wrote about how most of the fans in attendance at what was possibly his last appearance as a Jays struck a chord with me. I remember going to a game in 1998 – probably in August – when the Twins were in town. Although Paul Molitor had not announced any retirement plans, I was sure this was his final season (and I was correct). He came to the plate late in the game, and although I stood and applauded what I felt was his final at-bat at SkyDome, I don’t think anyone else knew or cared. Would have liked to seen both of them get more appreciative send-offs, they certainly deserved them.

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