Key Stats: With the exception of the 2009 season, Jason Motte has been a good pitcher since 2007 when he was in Double-A. He has had more than 8 K/9 every season and if we don’t include that 2009 season, he has also had a FIP under 3.30 every year. The problem has always been that the numbers don’t end up counting for anything in fantasy because he has been a middle reliever. That finally changed last year when Motte started closing games for the Cards. Although he had a rocky outing against the Rangers in the World Series, in the time that Motte was formally the closer for the Cardinals he converted 14 out of 15 saves – and under significant pressure in just about all of those games. That should be enough to justify keeping him in that role next season regardless of who’s decision it is to name a closer.
Skeptics Say: Motte’s K/9 was the lowest it has been going back to that 2007 season at Double-A last year. Not that 8.38 is a bad number, but it does not look as good as what Motte has done in the past. Another problem for Motte is that there are several free agents with closing experience on the open market. The Cardinals know that Motte can be just as valuable in the 8th inning and could push him back to that role if an opportunity knocks.
Peer Comparison: Matthew Berry always screams not to pay for saves. I agree to an extent with his idea, but only when it comes to setting up tiers at the position. The flaw in Mr. Berry’s theory is that by not paying, sometimes you get stuck with a player like Kevin Gregg. Gregg will get the saves, but his ERA will take the team ERA for the season down by a few hundredths of a point or for the week by a tenth or two tenths of a point. And that is enough to make all the difference. Closers are the one position that I actually believe in tiers. Take for example the xFIP and strikeouts of four NL Central closers: Joel Hanrahan, Carlos Marmol, John Axford, and Motte.
Hanrahan: 2.98 & 61
Marmol: 3.80 & 99
Axford: 2.85 & 86
Motte: 3.39 & 63
Axford had the best overall 2011, but also seems most likely to run into a stat correction. All that said, he might be the best of this group, but I don’t want to risk taking him first and then watching the other three go three rounds after that. Conceivably anyone of these pitchers could be better than the rest in 2012. And for that matter, if Aroldis Chapman is closing in Cincinnati he could be better than all of the above. Motte has his place on this countdown (no idea what Cockcroft is even thinking), but the timing of where he goes can change from draft to draft depending on the closer runs.
Team Outlook: If Albert Pujols is not retained, it will impact every player on the Cardinals roster in terms of fantasy implications. In a down year Pujols’ WAR was over 5 last season, so that will of course mean less wins for the Cardinals if he bolts, but does it mean less saves? Not necessarily. Last season the Rays were a playoff team and finished 29th in baseball in saves as a team. Meanwhile the Padres, a last place squad, finished in 10th in baseball in saves. Pujols’ fielding does help Motte to an extent, but at times his bat forces a four run lead and takes save opportunities away from Motte. Pujols’ potential departure will effect Motte the least of any player on the Cardinals.
Projection: Motte’s strikeout to walk rate has climbed steadily the past three seasons which is another encouraging sign for a closer’s job security. Gone are the days of the unpredictable Tony LaRussa, so hopefully Motte can manage 30+ saves in 2012.
35 saves 3 wins 2.79 ERA 1.06 WHIP 67 K in 73 innings