While a playoff spot is no guarantee, the Chicago Cubs are positioning themselves well for a run at a postseason berth that was a hope coming into the season, but not an expectation. This is a young team that has battled inconsistencies, many of which relate to the offense and were expected to be a factor throughout the year. However, their bullpen has represented a point of concern as well, with some inconsistencies throughout the relief corps, whether related to injury or performance.
Within that group of relief pitchers is Jason Motte, who has been a guy out of the ‘pen that the Cubs have utilized in virtually every role possible. Those roles, of course, include holding down ninth inning duties for a spell as the closer in Joe Maddon‘s closer-by-committee approach that was adopted as a result of a rough stretch for Hector Rondon. As the Cubs begin to head into the home stretch here, though, they should leave Motte out of the closing picture.
For the most part, Jason Motte has been an asset for the Cubs. He’s made 48 appearances in his first year with the team, and he enjoys a 7-1 record on the season to go along with six saves. His ERA and FIP don’t paint the prettiest of pictures for the veteran reliever, however, as he sports numbers of 3.51 and 3.96, respectively. For a guy routinely appearing at the backend of ballgames, you’d obviously like each of those numbers to be quite a bit lower.
But it’s not the numbers that should leave Jason Motte out of the closer’s role for the Chicago Cubs. It’s his specific arsenal of pitches and the way in which he utilizes said arsenal. Of course, the term “arsenal” should be used sparingly, as it isn’t really an eclectic mix of pitches that Motte brings to the table, as he represents more of a one-trick pony than anything. Which is fine, but only to an extent (and that extent typically isn’t the ninth inning of a close game).
Motte has a mid-90s fastball that he throws over 85 percent of the time. He’s dropped a couple of notches on it since injuries took their toll, but it does the job to point. The rest of his pitches feature the cutter, thrown the remaining 14% and change. That’s it. There’s nothing offspeed that he’s throwing that could help him to keep hitters off balance. He’s throwing ched outing after outing, with no hope of mixing in anything else.
As such, opposing hitters are making more than regular contact off of him. Their overall contact rate is 87.7%, easily the highest mark of his career by a full seven percent. They’re making contact with 14% more pitches out of the zone than at any point during Motte’s career. His swinging strike rate is down to just 6.5%, the lowest figure of his career, while swinging at 55.5% of pitches overall. If there is a positive, it’s that his hard contact rate is at 29.1%, which isn’t too much higher than his 26.1% career average.
Additionally, Motte is sporting a groundball rate of only 31.3%. He’s never been a big GB guy, but even that is eight percent below his career average. He’s also managed to escape a fair bit of danger through a .269 BABIP for opposing hitters.
Overall, signs really point to not having Jason Motte serve any sort of ninth inning role. His fastball, while effective, is really his only pitch, even if he does have that cutter that he occasionally throws in the mix. With hitters’ ability to make contact off of it, even if it isn’t hard contact all that much, Motte serving as a closing pitcher in a close game is a recipe for disaster. He’s an effective reliever, but not a guy you want to throw in those kind of situations. Even in going the closer-by-committee route, you’re playing a dangerous game with Jason Motte.
**Statistics via FanGraphs
Randy Holt is the managing editor for Statliners. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.