Friday was an active day for the Milwaukee Brewers, as they completed three waiver deals before the passing of the deadline for postseason eligibility. The first of those trades was yet another transaction that was finalized with the White Sox, this one to add Xavier Cedeno and his sorely needed left arm to Milwaukee’s bullpen.
Cedeno, who turned 32 late last month, began his career all the way back in 2004 when we was a 31st round pick by the Colorado Rockies. He spent the next seven years toiling in the minors for that franchise before getting released in 2010 and later hooking on with the Astros. It was with Houston that the southpaw made his big league debut the following year in 2011. He appeared in three games that season, recording four outs while allowing five earned runs and two homers.
Fortunately, things would improve for Cedeno after that less-than-stellar debut. He’s spent parts of the last eight seasons pitching at the MLB level, holding down a role as a left-handed specialist for the Astros, Nationals, Rays, White Sox, and now Brewers. Cedeno missed most of the 2017 season with the Rays while dealing with a forearm issue and was granted free agency after throwing only 3.0 innings in nine appearances on the year. He signed a minor league deal with the White Sox in January, and spent the first couple months of the 2018 season down on the farm before getting the call back to the big leagues in June.
For his career, Cedeno has appeared in 236 games strictly out of the bullpen, but has tallied only 169.2 innings as a situational match-up arm. He’s notched 170 strikeouts against 66 walks while yielding a 3.77 ERA, and metrics like FIP- (89) and especially DRA- (67) believe that he’s done some excellent work throughout as a major leaguer. Cedeno has generally done well in limiting hard contact (28.9%) as well as keeping the ball on ground (50.9%), which has helped him keep the ball in the park at a solid rate in the big leagues (0.8 HR/9). Including his two scoreless appearances for Milwaukee over the weekend, this season has seen Cedeno work to a sterling 2.63 ERA (67 FIP-/44 DRA-) across 27.1 innings with 30 punchouts versus 13 free passes.
Cedeno has evolved as a pitcher quite a bit since debuting in The Show, and has whittled down what was once a vast arsenal to almost strictly a cutter and curveball. He doesn’t throw his cutter very hard, averaging 86.6 MPH and topping out at 89 this year, but he’s held opponents to just a .224 average against the pitch by keeping it low in the strike zone and hitting the corners. He has leaned on his cut close to 67% of the time in 2018 while essentially throwing his 77-79 MPH curveball for the remainder of his offerings (he has tossed one changeup this season). His curve gets a ton of downward movement from Cedeno’s over-the-top arm slot, and batters have hit only .146 against the pitch this season while whiffing close to 17% of the time. Cedeno’s overall 13.4% swinging strike rate this season is the second-best total of his career, behind only the 14.4% rate he produced in 2015.
Cedeno has been able to keep both right-handed hitters (.613 OPS) and lefties (.564 OPS) in check pretty well this year, but that has definitely not been the case the majority of the time. Righties have crushed Cedeno to the tune of a .281/.364/.441 slash during the course of his career, as opposed to a .217/.282/.299 batting line from left-handed hitters. With as many right-handed hurlers as Milwaukee has in the bullpen now, there shouldn’t be any real reason for Cedeno to have to face a right-handed hitter in a big spot during the final month of the regular season.
Josh Hader isn’t a situational reliever and his governed by his own special set of rules while Dan Jennings has struggled quite a bit during the second half of the season, prompting Slingin’ David Stearns to go out and find another experienced lefty to stick in his expanded bullpen. He appears to have done well by acquiring Xavier Cedeno for a couple of rookie level prospects, if the southpaw’s first two appearances for the Menomonee Valley Nine are any indication. The situational left-hander is riding his cutter/curveball combo to one of the best seasons of his big league career, and if he finishes the season strong for the Brewers, they will even have the option of retaining him for 2019 via arbitration.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Prospectus