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On Jason Motte and home run balls

The 10th inning comeback by St. Louis on Sunday softened the blow of Cardinals closer Jason Motte having allowed a game-tying home run to Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki with two outs and two strikes in the ninth. It was Motte’s sixth blown save of the season.

That stumble led me to look into Motte’s 2012 a bit more, his first in the role after taking over as St. Louis’ closer about this time last year. After a relatively rough start to the season – three blown saves and two losses through May – Motte has just three blown saves and two losses since June 1.

In other words, this is clearly not a panic situation.

But how does his season stack up compared to other top closers across Major League Baseball?

MLB 2012 save leaders, through September 9

Jim Johnson BAL 42 3 93.3% 60 1 1 58.1 47 21 19 12 36 6.4 2.93
Fernando Rodney TBR 42 2 95.5% 66 2 2 65.1 39 9 5 12 66 3.7 0.69
Rafael Soriano NYY 36 3 92.3% 59 2 1 56.2 47 13 13 17 59 3.9 2.06
Craig Kimbrel ATL 35 3 92.1% 53 1 1 53.1 22 7 7 14 98 2.0 1.18
Aroldis Chapman CIN 35 5 87.5% 63 5 5 67 34 13 12 17 118 2.2 1.61
Chris Perez CLE 35 4 89.7% 53 0 4 49.2 42 22 20 11 57 3.6 3.62
Joel Hanrahan PIT 34 3 91.9% 56 4 1 52.2 34 14 14 28 60 3.7 2.39
Jason Motte STL 33 6 84.6% 56 4 4 62 42 21 20 16 71 3.4 2.90
Jonathan Papelbon PHI 32 4 88.9% 60 5 6 60.2 48 20 17 16 75 3.3 2.52
Joe Nathan TEX 31 1 96.9% 56 2 3 55.1 47 18 15 9 67 3.3 2.44
Tyler Clippard WSN 30 4 88.2% 64 2 4 63 40 24 22 27 75 3.5 3.14
J.J. Putz ARI 29 5 85.3% 50 1 5 48 41 17 17 11 57 3.4 3.19
Jose Valverde DET 28 4 87.5% 59 3 2 57.2 48 28 23 22 41 6.0 3.59
Rafael Betancourt COL 27 5 84.4% 52 1 3 50 41 15 14 12 46 4.4 2.52
John Axford MIL 27 8 77.1% 64 5 7 59.1 53 37 31 35 76 3.5 4.70
Addison Reed CHW 26 4 86.7% 55 3 2 50.1 55 28 27 16 52 4.2 4.83
Alfredo Aceves BOS 25 8 75.8% 64 2 9 74.1 62 38 37 28 67 4.7 4.48
Kenley Jansen LAD 25 6 80.6% 56 5 3 56.2 31 17 16 19 86 2.6 2.54

First of all, Motte is currently eighth in MLB in saves with 33.

However, when looking at the 18 closers with at least 25 saves to-date, Motte’s six blown saves tie him for second-most, after Boston’s Alfredo Aceves, who has eight.

Over his 39 opportunities, Motte’s save conversion rate of 84.6 percent is 14th – the fifth worst of this group.

Motte’s ERA of 2.90 is 10th but the OPS of his collective batters faced is seventh-best at .592.

(Note the names in this second table are listed in the same order as the one above.)

Closer HR BF/HR BF AB BA OBP SLG OPS Pit Str Pct str
Jim Johnson 3 77 231 215 .219 .270 .288 .558 860 529 38.1%
Fernando Rodney 2 124 247 226 .173 .222 .208 .430 978 645 39.7%
Rafael Soriano 3 77 231 212 .222 .281 .340 .621 915 593 39.3%
Craig Kimbrel 3 65 195 181 .122 .185 .177 .361 801 562 41.2%
Aroldis Chapman 4 64 257 235 .145 .214 .234 .448 1121 730 39.4%
Chris Perez 4 51 205 191 .220 .259 .356 .615 847 567 40.1%
Joel Hanrahan 7 31 219 189 .180 .289 .323 .612 867 531 38.0%
Jason Motte 9 27 241 220 .191 .251 .341 .592 954 666 41.1%
Jonathan Papelbon 7 35 245 223 .215 .277 .350 .627 980 660 40.2%
Joe Nathan 5 44 219 204 .230 .266 .333 .599 920 615 40.1%
Tyler Clippard 4 66 262 227 .176 .266 .282 .548 1106 721 39.5%
J.J. Putz 4 49 195 182 .225 .277 .346 .623 740 479 39.3%
Jose Valverde 3 82 245 214 .224 .305 .346 .650 945 608 39.2%
Rafael Betancourt 4 50 201 185 .222 .266 .341 .607 803 535 40.0%
John Axford 7 38 267 227 .233 .338 .370 .708 1215 729 37.5%
Addison Reed 5 44 220 198 .278 .332 .439 .771 848 574 40.4%
Alfredo Aceves 9 35 312 269 .230 .310 .364 .674 1227 826 40.2%
Kenley Jansen 6 37 222 199 .156 .239 .296 .535 928 615 39.9%

One of Motte’s trouble areas this season appeared again on Sunday, with the long ball given up. This trend is a bit concerning as it was his fourth home run yielded in his most recent 11 outings and ninth overall this season. Motte’s total of nine ties Aceves for the most home runs allowed among the top 18 closers.

Further, Motte’s rate of one home run allowed per 27 batters faced is dead last among this group.

Certainly, Motte has upper-90’s velocity, which when contact occurs, could lead to an immediate bad outcome. On the other hand, he isn’t the only hard-thrower among this group.

Is it because Motte’s secondary offerings might be less effective than others’? I don’t know.

I began to wonder about strike-throwing. At the far right of the second table above, you can see that Motte registers the highest percentage of strikes of any of these closers, except for Atlanta’s wildly-successful Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel is just one-tenth of a percent higher, at 41.2 to 41.1 percent.

However, Motte is not ringing up strikeouts at an unusual rate for this group. In fact, the numbers are just the opposite. 11 of the 17 others have a higher strikeout rate than Motte’s one K per every 3.4 batters faced (see first table).

So, in summary, Motte throws almost the most strikes but doesn’t strike out all that many, while giving up the most long balls (tied) and has a fairly-high rate of blown saves.

Could Motte be throwing too many strikes or it is just that too many of them are getting hit hard enough to leave the park?

What do you think? Let’s continue this discussion below…

(Thanks to researcher Tom Orf for supplying the data in the tables.)

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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38 Responses to “On Jason Motte and home run balls”

  1. blingboy says:

    1. Motte throws like a catcher. Last year we had a conversation about his pronounced short-arm style and the effect that would have on his ability to develop effective secondary pitches.

    2. He’s a one trick pony. Motte is all about throwing it by guys, and he’s good at it. His K/9 is up from last year.

    3. Hitters have seen him enough to know what’s coming. His HR/9 is way up, but interestingly not his WHIP.

    4. Motte probably looks better to us than he is because of the closer problems we went through most of last year, and his rise to the role corresponded to the comeback and post-season glory.

    5. Hitters eventually catch up with hard throwers who don’t themselves evolve into better pitchers. So we will have to see if Motte is up to that challenge.

  2. crdswmn says:

    So what’s up with bringing up Steven Hill? Wanted another bat?

    • Brian Walton says:

      Frankly, I expected Hill to have been with the first wave. I see him as the best PH option of any of the September call-ups. New news is Berkman being away from the club, not that he was being used much. Freese’s ankle not 100%, etc…

  3. blingboy says:

    Kozma in the lineup.

  4. crdswmn says:

    Lance Berkman will have season ending knee surgery tomorrow and Lance Lynn will start on Thursday.

    I wish both Lances well.

    • Nutlaw says:

      Good and good.

      • crdswmn says:

        I find neither to be good at all.

        • Nutlaw says:

          Berkman was great last year, but it is well past time that he goes away forever. I don’t want to see my team suffer while broken down old guys push themselves too far.

          • crdswmn says:

            The team has hardly suffered. He hasn’t played much and I don’t recall him doing anything to hurt the team during the brief times he did play. He could still be effective as a pinch hitter, not to mention the positive affect he has on the clubhouse.

            Perhaps you would like Chris Carpenter to go away forever as well? He fits your rather callous description.

            • Nutlaw says:

              I recall Mr. Berkman coming back to play in the majors before he was ready because he was too good for a rehab assignment. Six hits in 33 AB. Post ASG, he had a .656 OPS. He can’t field. He can’t run. He can’t really hit (though I’ll still take him over Anderson). If he wants to hang around and tell jokes, that’s cool. Him not being on the field is a good thing.

              Carpenter appears to be throwing proper simulated games to get himself warmed back up, rather than inflicting his warm up attempts upon the team’s performance. I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t potentially be able to contribute.

              • Nutlaw says:

                And before you go bashing Matheny too hard, keep in mind that he has to manage the egos of guys like Berkman and the supposed team leader Matt Holliday, who faked an injury the one day that he was scheduled not to bat third and who has never played a single game in a position other than LF in his entire career, even when infielders are forced to man right.

                But at least Holliday can hit and at least Beltran finally caved and played a bit of CF when needed, even though he no longer can handle the bat. It’s rather arrogant to think so much of yourself that instead of resting and healing up, you go out and suck on the field every day rather than let someone else play in your stead.

                • crdswmn says:

                  And you know all of this egomaniacal injury faking refusing to play another position behavior is a fact, just how exactly?

                  If you have all this inside knowledge, I would really like to hear all the good dirt. Please share.

                  • Nutlaw says:

                    No inside knowledge required. Holliday pulled himself from the game a few minutes before start back when not slotted third based on some minor excuse. It was said that he could have played. He never got put in the lineup anywhere but third from then on. You don’t really have to read between the lines on that one.

                    When Berkman was signed to play the outfield, Holliday said that he would move to RF if needed, but that he would be staying with one position throughout an entire season.

                    Beltran was often found stating that he was a right fielder and not a center fielder, but he maned up.

  5. blingboy says:

    Missed it, but some thoughts anyway:

    There is little point continuing to pitch Jaime on the road.
    (Nut’s research on the Cruz/Garcia thing is very interesting and deserves some followup)

    We are up to our arse in .300 hitters so we put a struggling .260 hitter second.
    (I am beginning to warm up to crdswmn’s thinking on Matheny.)

    It looks like Shelby experienced some adversity. (Who didn’t)

    Nice game with the stick for Kozma. How’d he look in the field?

    • Brian Walton says:

      I only recall one Koz play defensively. He did a nice job going deep in the hole on a ball hit by one of the SD fast runners. Instead of eating it, he made a wild throw that just about got Craig killed in a near collision. The ball did not go out of play as it luckily hit off the wall separating the field and the stands and ricocheted back toward Craig. Just one play and he wasn’t the first to attempt an impossible throw, but I cringed.

  6. JumboShrimp says:

    One factoid within Brian’s table is Motte is among the leaders in innings per appearance. Only Aceves and Chapman also have more innings pitched than appearances. The general custom across baseball is to save your closer for the final three outs. The Cards having had bullpen weaknesses have made additional use of Motte.
    Motte has had to collect 18 outs (or 6 innings) prior to the 9th or in non-save situations. This longer duration may more hinder a pitcher who relies more on velocity than breaking balls.
    Probably most of the 9 HRs were against left swingers. And probably on high pitches. When he throws hard stuff low and away, a pitch would be hard to elevate for a HR.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Actually, no. Seven of the nine homers were by right-handed hitters.

      Number of outs per appearance is less relevant than number of pitches thrown. Motte averages 17 pitches per appearance. Aceves and Axford are at 19 or more. Johnson, Putz and Rodney are just under 15. The rest are in the middle. Motte doesn’t stand out.

    • Nutlaw says:

      Yeah, again, Motte is killing lefties this year. The problem (in my opinion) is that he isn’t throwing enough sinkers to right handers, as that pitch tends to be much more effective against same handed batters (moreso than sliders, even). He’s throwing too many cutters against RHB, which are supposed to be primarily effective against opposite handed batters (moreso than changeups, even).

  7. kray66 says:

    Not to distract from the big team (although I’m sure a few of us would like to be able to look away from the car wreck that’s happened), but I’ve heard that once again the Springfield Cards will be facing a rehabbing major leaguer in the playoffs. Frisco has Mike Napoli playing for them in the Championship series. Not against the rules, but kind of crappy if you ask me.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I can see both sides of it. Had the Cards sent Carp to make a start for Springfield, would we feel the same way?

    • Brian Walton says:

      I was thinking more about this. I could see the possibility of it having a negative impact on Frisco. The team was together all year long, fighting for this moment. Now, the regular catcher has to sit out in the championship because the major leaguer needs playing time. Plus Napoli may not know his pitchers as well. (It could be less of an impact if Napoli is just the DH.)

      • kray66 says:

        Yeah, it would be nice to see Carp pitch, but I still think I’d find it shady in general if he started. But I do understand these guys need to rehab somewhere, and the only option for some of these minor league teams is a team in the playoffs.

        I do completely agree that it may throw off chemistry and be an issue if he catches. I definitely don’t think it gives Frisco a huge advantage, but he is still an accomplished hitter. Hopefully it just makes the Texas League Championship that much sweeter!

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