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Mot(te) Your Average Fastball

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Ryan Franklin is what he is: a soft tossing right-hander that La Russa likely has a higher than warranted degree of confidence in. Periodically, the lack of strikeouts and a few meltdowns causes us all a great deal of anxiety. He is definitely not the reliever I'm most worried about early into 2011. No, that distinction belongs to Jason Motte.

After a poor spring training, Jason Motte is exhibiting the signs of a reliever with an average fastball. With a 3.29 FIP last year built on a 96mph fastball, Motte has been tinkering again. It's a common refrain: he's working on a second pitch. Sometimes that's a slider, sometimes a cutter . . . heck, he may be working on a gyroball for all I know. And probably for all he knows too.

See that's the thing about Motte: he lives and dies by his fastball.  The chart below shows the frequency of fastball selection and the linear weights run value of his fastball over the course of the season. (SSS Caveat Applies)

Year FB % FB Value
2008 89.4 5.6
2009 75.3 -4.2
2010 81.9 11.7
2011 73.6 -0.4


There's a chicken and an egg element to this kind of analysis. Does Jason throw his fastball less because it's not effective or is his fastball not effective because he throws it less? I tend to think it's a messy combination of the two. Motte's fastball is, well, fast regularly clocking in at 95+mph. It doesn't have a lot of movement on it and tends to be straight.  What has made it effective in the past is the superb command he had of the pitch.  High and away? Check. Low and inside? Check. Low and away? Check. Motte could put his fastball where the catcher called for it and confounded hitters.

When Motte can't locate his fastball, it's more of an accelerated meatball. It comes in fast and can leave the park just as quickly. The problem is that Motte has never developed a second pitch. That's been the part of the listing for years. "For Sale: Good reliever. Great fastball. Questionable Secondary Stuff." The Cardinals have worked with him on various secondary offerings (slider, cutter, splitter, changeup) but nothing has been consistent enough to use in a game. And that's not a bad thing . . . if his fastball is working.

I have a lot more faith in Ryan Franklin returning to his mediocre junkball ways. Motte without command of his fastball is more problematic in my mind.