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Anatomy of a Closer

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As the time for pitchers and catchers to report approaches, it’s becoming increasingly likely that the ’09 closer is already on the Cardinals roster. Though Chris Perez assumed that role for part of ’08, he’s hardly a shoo-in for the role this year, however. Many here, and elsewhere, like Jason Motte for the role in large part b/c of his 98+ mph fastball.

Recently, Harry Pavlidis over at BtB analyzed the current state of the Cards’ relief to help determine to whom he’d turn (among Perez, Motte, and Carp). In short, and that’s unfair to Harry b/c the post is definitely worth reading, he agrees w/ Tony that the Cards would be better served w/ Brandon Lyon or Juan Cruz than any of those 3 but, if he was forced to select from those 3 only, he’d probably go w/ Motte. As we all know by now, Motte’s "weakness" is the lack of a decent secondary pitch. He’s got a tremendous fastball, but as Kevin Goldstein from BP said the other day, "big-leaguers can hit a 99 mph pitch when they know it's coming."

Goldstein’s got Motte ranked #10 on the Cards’ top 11 prospects while Perez is ranked third. Goldstein seems to like Perez’s arsenal a little better than Motte’s despite his inconsistency finding the strike zone – Perez’s perceived weakness. Additionally, all 3 regulars over at futureredbirds have Perez ranked slightly higher than Motte on their respective prospect lists. Over at minorleagueball, John Sickels has Perez ranked #3 and Motte ranked #7 on his Cards’ top 20 prospects list. There seems to be little debate about the 2 pitchers in terms of what they lack. With Perez, it’s consistency finding the strike zone and for Motte, it’s consistency w/ a secondary pitch.

We all probably know Motte’s story by now. He was a Cardinal farmhand who caught fastballs rather than tossed him and, b/c of how hard he threw the ball and the fact that he couldn’t hit a lick, he was moved to the mound. So despite the fact that he and Perez have been pitching in the Cards’ farm system for about the same amount of time, Motte is 3 years older than Perez (26-23). Because Motte has so little experience at the big league level, it almost doesn’t make sense to compare what they’ve done for the Cards. Still, Motte’s 11 IP were impressive ones.

ERA HR/9 BB/9 K/9 AVG OBP SLG
Perez 3.46 1.08 4.75 9.07 .224 .324 .427
Motte 0.82 0.00 2.45 13.09 .139 .205 .139

Remember, as we fall over ourselves drooling over the prospect of Jason Motte setting the season saves record in ’09 – that’s 11 innings. Settle down! Let’s look at their minor league numbers for comparison’s sake.

ERA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9
Perez 2.72 5.04 0.66 5.94 12.14
Motte 2.90 8.36 0.60 3.06 11.86

Did you realize that Perez’s K/9 was higher than Motte’s in the minors? I must admit that I didn’t and their HR/9 are about the same as are their ERAs. The only material difference is Perez’s walk rate. Still, I think a more instructive way to look at the two players would be to compare their performances at similar levels of the minors.

Perez was drafted out of the University of Miami in 2006 as a supplemental first rounder and was sent immediately upon signing to Class A Quad Cities. He’s never pitched at a lower level in the Cards’ system. Motte, on the other hand, since he was a converted catcher, spent some time pitching for State College in the New York-Penn League before moving up to Quad Cities. Furthermore, Perez finished ’06 w/ Quad Cities and skipped high A ball, beginning the 2007 season in Springfield at AA ball. Motte, being less experienced on the mound, pitched 10 innings in high A w/ Palm Beach before being promoted to Springfield.

Year Level IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 AVG FIP
Perez 2006 A 29.1 9.82 5.83 0.00 .195 3.37
Motte 2006 A 12.2 9.24 2.13 0.71 .309 3.12

Year Level IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 AVG FIP
Perez 2007 AA 40.2 13.72 6.20 0.66 .129 3.77
Motte 2007 AA 49.0 11.57 4.04 0.55 .207 2.96

Year Level IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 AVG FIP
Perez 2007 AAA 13.0 9.00 9.00 1.38 .141 6.43
Perez 2008 AAA 25.1 13.50 4.26 1.07 .201 3.28
Motte 2008 AAA 66.2 14.85 3.51 0.81 .254 2.29

Three things stand out when looking at these numbers. First, though we are in awe of Motte’s fastball, Perez seems as able to get a strikeout as Motte. They both have filthy stuff and have dominated minor leaguers to this point. Second, Perez is clearly more wild and slightly more prone to the homer. Third, b/c of the higher walk rate and homer rate, FIP doesn’t like Perez as much as it does Motte. That’s telling.

Let’s look at what statcorner has to say about their tra*s:

Year Level tra*
Perez 2007 AA 4.42
Perez 2007 AAA 4.89
Perez 2008 AAA 4.62
Perez 2008 MLB 4.39

Year Level tra*
Motte 2007 A+ 4.62
Motte 2007 AA 3.94
Motte 2008 AAA 3.39
Motte 2008 MLB 4.29

Again, statcorner and tra* seems to like Motte a little bit better. I have to say, when I embarked on this journey, I was wanting to see whether minor league hitters have fared better against Motte’s 1 pitch arsenal or Perez’s wildness and the results have been pretty similar. The predictive stats, however, which btw can’t tell whether Motte throws 1 pitch or 7, all seem to like Motte a little better b/c, if nothing else, he gets it over the plate consistently.

I’ll admit also that I don’t really know of any (basically) 1 pitch relievers, successful or unsuccessful today, to which to compare Motte. He hasn’t pitched enough to have any comps over at baseball-reference. I did, however, search for major league relievers who threw 20+ innings last season and sorted by walk rates from high to low to see if any of them (w/ the worst walk rates) had been successful. The answer: not really. Clay Hensley of the Padres had a BB rate of 6.09 and an FIP of 3.84. Not stellar. The Mets just traded for J.J. Putz. He had a 5.44 BB rate and an FIP of 3.78. Maybe that’s Perez’s best comp. Putz can be deadly when he’s healthy and throwing strikes and, if he’s not, he’s merely OK. Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs had a 4.88 BB/9 and an FIP of 3.06. Great fastball, great slider, shaky control? Hmmm…. Sounds like young pitcher to me.

How about this guy? He has a good fastball and a deadly slider and had a BB/9 last year of 4.54 and an FIP of …2.41! Wow! That gives me some hope. Even Carlos Marmol’s BB rate was 4.23 – not exactly Mariano Rivera, is it?

I guess the truth is that we’ll never know what’ll happen until we stick them out there this February and March (and then April, May, etc.) and see what happens. I’m ok w/ that. I don’t expect either to be Brad Lidge but I do have some faith that, whether it’s Motte in the 8th and Perez in the 9th or vice-versa, we’ve got a pretty good back end of the pen developing.