Cubs Reliever Jason Motte Has Been Oddly Effective; Could We See Regression?

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Cubs Reliever Jason Motte Has Been Oddly Effective; Could We See Regression?

Chicago Cubs

jason motte cubsJason Motte is not the same guy he was with the Cardinals.

He is not striking out 30 percent of opposing batters.

In fact, Motte’s strikeout rate has slumped the last two seasons, getting slashed in half to its current rate of 15 percent.

Nor is he whiffing them at a dizzying per-9 rate.

Motte’s 5.65 K/9 is lower than his career 8.84 K/9 and represents a significant dip from his 10.75 K/9 in 2012, which came before Tommy John surgery sidelined him for the 2013 season.

He also has yet to induce the swings-and-misses fans had been accustomed to prior to signing with the Cubs. Motte’s swinging strike rate is a career-low 6.9 percent after being at 11 percent or better in four of his first six seasons.

Maybe they will come when he finds consistency in his velocity. His average fastball speed this month is 95.6 mph, which is nearly 2 m.p.h. better than where he was in the final month of his final year with the Cardinals (93.6).

While it is unfortunate that the strikeouts have been down during this stretch (6 of 38 batters, 15.8 K%), walks (2 in 9.2 IP, 5.3 BB%) haven’t been an issue. Neither have balls in play. Batters who have hit the ball are 8-for-36 (.222 avg.; .241 BABIP).

But if the strikeouts (or swings-and-misses) do not come, Motte will need to rely on minimizing hard contact and a career-best .236 BABIP for continued success. And that probably is not sustainable over the course of a full season.

Because of this, high-leverage situations will continue to be a high-risk endeavor for Motte moving forward if the strikeouts don’t start to pile up.

Despite all this, Motte has still found a way to be an effective reliever in Joe Maddon’s bullpen.

One wouldn’t expect to describe that kind of hard-throwing right-hander as crafty, but that might be the term that fits him best right now.

He has seen his hard hit rate drop from 41.7 percent last year to 25 percent with the Cubs — which happens to be more in line with his career 26.1 percent hard hit rate. Motte has also seen the percentage of softly hit balls nearly double from 11.9 percent to 20.7 percent. Chalk it up as another number that suggests Motte is rounding into form, as his career soft hit rate is 18.8 percent.

Hard hit balls are down, softly hit balls are up. Those are positive signs for a reliever trying to regain the magic that made him a relief ace in St. Louis.

Also notable is the rate at which Motte has pummeled the strike zone this season. He is throwing 68.3 percent of his first pitches for strikes — which represents the highest number among Cubs pitchers and the 14th most among 147 qualified relievers. It is also an improvement from the 62.7 percent it sat at last year and 64.5 percent career rate. Further, he has also been rather effective against batters who put his first pitch in play, retiring 10 of the 12.

But despite the high number of strikes thrown, strikeouts have been few and far between.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see where he fits with the return of Neil Ramirez. Especially considering that Motte (35 batters faced) has been used as often as Pedro Strop (34) in high-leverage situations. Only Hector Rondon (59) has faced more batters in those situations than Motte or Strop.

But I imagine that will work itself out as the season runs its course.

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Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.