St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte has seen a lot of ups and downs in the early stages of his career, but he might now be set to have many more ups than downs in the foreseeable future.
The Cardinals agreed to a one-year, $1.95 million contract Wednesday with the man who closed out the franchise’s 11th World Series title.
Although the deal is only for one year, Motte looks like he could be the ninth-inning man for the Cardinals for many years.
Why? That might sound overly optimistic, but he could have long-term success because of his pitching style.
Understandably, many people guffawed at Motte’s pitching style when he first came to the big leagues after being switched from catcher to pitcher in the minor leagues. He throws hard, but he doesn’t have much of a secondary pitch. His slider is very much still a work in progress, and he doesn’t really have a change-up (the out-pitch for many elite closers).
However, all of those so-called deficiencies could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Motte, and in turn for the Cardinals.
When a pitcher such as Motte doesn’t have a reliable back-up pitch, he has to live and die by his fastball. Motte has a good fastball, but last year he learned how to locate that pitch. When everything else about a pitcher is stripped away, locating the fastball is what makes any pitcher successful.
That’s why Motte could have some staying power in the back of the Cardinals’ bullpen.
At the end of the game, many pitchers (Jason Isringhausen, for example) try to get fancy by throwing cutters and curveballs to fool hitters and rack up strikeouts. That often leads to trouble. Sure, a fastball down the gut has the potential to get smashed, but a hanging off-speed pitch in the ninth-inning means more often than not that one team will be celebrating at home plate while the other slowly walks off the field.
Motte understands that he is not going to fool anybody when he comes into a game. His job is to pump in fastballs and get outs, no matter how they come. Ryan Franklin had success as a closer for the same reason. He didn’t try to be fancy and fool hitters. Rather, he located his pitches and forced hitters to softly hit the ball into the ground.
But, Franklin’s luck eventually ran out, and he was terrible in 2011.
However, the difference between Franklin and Motte is that Motte has a swing-and-miss fastball. Motte can throw close to 10 mph faster than Franklin could. When a 97 mph pitch is thrown right where the catcher wants it, hitters will have a tough time making solid contact.
Unfortunately the hard fastball gets many relievers in trouble. Pitchers such as Kyle Farnsworth could throw the ball through a wall, but he could never locate the pitch.
If Motte continues to use his fastball and concentrates on pitch location, he could quickly become one of the better closers the Cardinals have had, and that is saying something.
The Cardinals have had some Hall of Fame closers, but none of them lasted very long. Motte doesn’t have to be Hall of Fame worthy to be successful for the Cardinals, but if he is reliable in the ninth maybe the Cardinals could spend a few years without having to worry about that position.
As far as his contract is concerned, even if Motte has a fantastic 2012 season and his price jumps, the Cardinals should still have the money to keep him, especially if catcher Yadier Molina follows Albert Pujols to Anaheim.
Maybe in future years Motte will have to yell “Come get some!” to a different catcher when he closes out a World Series, but if Motte gets that chance it means the Cardinals have continued their run of excellence.
In the end, that’s really what Cardinals fans want.