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What’s wrong with Xavier Cedeno?

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays entered 2017 with only one lefty in the bullpen: Xavier Cedeno.

Acquired for cash considerations in 2015 after being cut by the Nationals and Dodgers as a temporary LOOGY, the southpaw found an opportunity to become a veteran presence in the young Rays bullpen, and by the end of 2016 he was considered a high leverage arm for the Rays to leverage.

Cedeno’s 2017 has not been what the Rays hoped.

Through ten batters across five appearances, Cedeno has logged only three outs, allowing three hits, three walks, two runs, and zero strikeouts. Through the magic of baseball, he’s also been credited with one win and one loss on the season, with a -0.4 WAR, 9.00 ERA and 24.95 FIP.

Those results tell you something is wonky on its own, but he hasn’t passed the eye test either. Watching him pitch, it feels like something is off, and Kevin Cash must agree as he’s been quick to pull Cedeno in all five appearances.

My first guess was that he’s pitching hurt, but to date, there has not been a discernable difference in Cedeno’s velocity or release points (within a 0.5” range vertically and 0.2” range horizontally) that would indicate he is injured. Wondering what other differences might be present, I decided to look at his delivery in more detail.

Here’s a clip from July 29, 2016, with a runner in scoring position, we’ll return to this again, but note the elements of his delivery: A high leg kick, a feint left to load his torque from the hips, and a repeatable, high release point.

When we last talked about pitcher mechanics, we looked at the difference between pitching from the set and pitching from the stretch for Blake Snell.

In the clip above, Cedeno is not pitching from the stretch, likely because he’s not worried about a stolen base occurring. My memory is not deep enough to remember how often Cedeno was pitching from the stretch in 2016. I don’t remember it happening often, and didn’t notice it in his delivery until the end of August last year.

Here’s what Cedeno looks like pitching from the stretch in 2017:

The most obvious difference is that Cedeno is using a swing step instead of a high leg kick, which is not atypical. The swing step mimics the majority of the movement forward in a delivery, but for Cedeno, that includes an exception for his hips, which stay set toward first base.

Here’s a side angle of that first step:

Cedeno’s standard delivery includes turning his hips back toward second base, but from stretch he only strides forward. You can see how Cedeno does not rotate the hips at the beginning of his deliver well in this front facing angle. The GIF is also in slow motion:

We could be splitting hairs, but the most striking thing to me in watching these 2017 clips is how less violent the torque appears in his 2017 delivery from the stretch. The turn is more timid, and his hips are less involved.

It’s possible that creates a slight difference in the heat on his cutter, particularly given how the radar guns are thought to be reading a bit hotter this season.

Cedeno is primarily a one-pitch pitcher, so any differences in his successful cutter are worth noting.

Now let’s go back and watch again his 2016 delivery:

And compare that to 2017, this time with no men on base:

In the second clip his leg kick is slightly higher, with his leg finishing with a whip around his right leg, where as before the leg naturally stops in a forward position, but both movements include the same amount of hip movement, and I wonder if that movement is important to his overall delivery.

Cedeno has faced only one batter without any men on this season, which is the clip above, and it ended in a walk.

The next batter he was pitching from the stretch:

And again we return to a delivery without his full rotation. Put another way, he’s not getting the full load from the hips.

To illustrate the moment I’m talking about, here’s a side-by-side breakdown of where Cedeno’s hips are facing at the same point in his delivery:

Is this the culprit to Cedeno’s problem? I’m certainly no expert, nor am I certain this is the case for Cedeno all the time. These are but three moments in time over several pitches thrown, and poor Cedeno is certainly likely to do better than what his results have shown just 10 batters into the season. However, Cedeno has certainly struggled with men on base in his career...

Bases Empty: 24.0 K%, 6.7 BB%, 3.16 FIP
Men on Base: 21.8 K%, 10.3 BB%, 3.91 FIP

... and that trend is being exacerbated this season.

Cedeno faced 90 batters with runners on in 2015, and allowed 24 on base (.267 OBP). He faced 77 batters with runners on in 2016, and allowed 24 again (.320 OBP). Either is a respectable result, All-Star Alex Colome had a .257 OBP allowed when pitching with runners on last season. Five appearances into 2017, and five of nine batters faced have reached while Cedeno pitched with runners on (.625 OBP).

Then again, this is small sample size theater. Perhaps everything will sort itself out with more opportunities, but just in case something was amiss, we have the above observation.

Whether it’s his delivery or not I can’t say, but as the lone lefty in the Rays bullpen (and with no room to add another on the 40-man roster), Cedeno needs to get his act together and quick, whatever the problem might be, because the Rays need him.