Dylan Cease started the season as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. He had success at every single level. Coming into this season, Cease had never had a single season ERA over 3.28.
For the first time in his life, the league has punched back and Cease is learning how to get off the mat. His Triple-A numbers are a bit deceiving as he had a three-game stretch of allowing 13 earned runs in just 11.1 innings of work. For his 12 other starts at the level prior to promotion, he allowed 12 earned runs in 57 innings, which pushes his ERA back down to his comfort level.
The big league is a completely new animal for the right-hander though. Outside of his two wins against the Tigers, the last coming in Tuesday, Cease has allowed 25 hits and 17 earned runs in 23 innings and four starts. None of those other four starts has seen Cease yield fewer than four earned runs.
The good news for Cease is that he has performed well against right-handed hitters. The bad news is that Cease has been absolutely hammered against lefties. Having faced lefties 64 times in six games, they are posting splits of .321/.406/.554 against him. He is missing bats of right-handed hitters and not walking near as many either, with a 2.88 SO/W rate. Against lefties, that falls drastically to 1.43.
Cease has shown that he does not like to throw his slider against left-handed hitters. He has only a 4.67 percent usage against lefties, compared to a 51.36 percent fastball usage. Against right-handed hitters, the slider totals are flipped. He uses the offering 34.18 percent of the time, with a similar fastball rate of 49.72 percent.
Against lefties, he is using his change up 15.56 percent and against righties that drops to 5.52 percent. With the pitch, Cease is getting a 64.29 percent swing rate and a 21.43 percent whiff rate. The whiff falls to 17.5 against lefties, but it is still his most effective pitch against them, as none of his other whiffs get above eight.
His curveball percentage is also drastically different. He uses the pitch 11.58 percent of the time against right-handed hitters and 28.40 percent of the time against left-handed hitters. The curveball is the pitch that Cease has one of his lowest whiff rates with 8.77, only ahead of his fastball at 8.44. He is also allowing a .278 average and .500 slugging percentage against his curve. The slugging percent rises to .692 against left-handed hitters.
As for location, Cease has thrown the highest percentage of pitches in the zone against lefties at the middle-center quadrant. Versus this location, lefties are slugging 1.250 against him. The location he is struggling with the curve, is the bottom center location, as they are slugging 1.400 there. The staggering number is that 23.29 percent of his curve offerings are in that location, which tends to be a strong power location for left-handed hitters. He has also thrown 12.5 percent of his changeups in that location. Remember, that is his most frequently thrown pitch to lefties other than his fastball.
The velocities on his off-speed pitches all similar, with the curve at 79.42, the change at 83.59, and the slider at 84.51. The movement on all of these pitches are also similar as the slider and the curve have a horizontal movement of around three. The curveball has the most depth, but he has been throwing the pitch in the same location for the most part.
Additionally, Cease has not allowed a line drive yet against a left-handed hitter with his slider in 2019. This is only because he has a 100 percent fly ball rate in that scenario, but none have fallen in for hits. This makes the slider one of his most impactful pitches with ultimate results against lefties. It is also the one that he is throwing the fewest amount against them.
What’s really interesting is that Cease has actually been a little bit better against left-handed hitters during his Minor League career, but most numbers are very similar. Those numbers increased slightly in Triple-A this season, but not near as drastically as at the big league level.
The book on Cease is that he is not missing left-handed bats and they are the ones doing the damage against him. He has really struggled with his curveball against them, as it is predictable in location. With the tremendous depth that Cease gets on the pitch, it does not make sense to scrap it entirely. He just needs to be less predictable with both that pitch and all of his offerings in general.