If St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte wants to get back on track, he's going to need to expand his pitch arsenal.
His four-seam fastball, that sits around 97-99 mph, befuddled hitters throughout the second half of the season all the way through the World Series. Combined with his cutter, the pitch looked even faster than it is.
In 2012, however, his fastball isn’t having the same success that it did last year.
The simple fact of the matter is, if major league hitters look at your fastball long enough, eventually they will learn to catch up with it. That’s what is unfolding before our eyes this year.
To date, Motte is 3-and-3 with a 3.71 ERA. He’s still close to on pace to reach last year’s strikeout totals, but his home run total is the concern. In 2011 Motte surrendered only two home runs. So far, in 2012, he has given up four. While that’s not a mountain of home runs, it’s definitely something to be concerned about.
Another area of Motte’s performance that has changed is the number of walks he has given up. In all of 2011 he walked only 16 batters. In 2012 he has already given 10 passes putting him on pace to nearly double last year’s total.
Why is Motte struggling this year? Batters are getting used to his fastball.
Like I said earlier, you can’t throw only fastballs forever and not expect major league hitters to eventually figure you out. It will happen. It has happened.
Right now, Motte is a hard thrower. He needs to become a good pitcher. In order to do that he needs to expand his arsenal to include a breaking pitch of some sort.
He has a cutter that he was quite successful with in 2011, but he hasn’t thrown it much at all in 2012.
As of Tuesday morning, Motte has thrown his four-seam fastball 66 percent of the time, according to Brooks Baseball, a site that studies and analyzes pitches. Here is the breakdown of his other pitches:
Sinker - 13 percent
Cutter - 18 percent
Changeup - 3 percent
A good changeup would be a plus for Motte, but in the very few times he has thrown it this year, he has only gotten batters to swing 31 percent of the time. With his fastball that number is 52 percent.
Given that he’s only thrown the changeup 13 times, that is not “developing a pitch.” It’s possible that he’s working on that behind the scenes, but at this point the fastball and cutter are the only pitches we’re seeing and we’re not seeing nearly enough of the cutter.
In order to make the successful transition from hard thrower to major league pitcher, a good off-speed pitch is a must. The main reason being, with a fastball like Motte’s, a quality off-speed delivery could throw a hitter’s timing so far out of whack it might never come back.
Motte definitely has the potential, and with a better arsenal to attack batters with, he could become one of the premiere closers in Major League Baseball.