By Andrew Riak, from Cardsblog.com
In 2011, the last pitch of the season was a 97 mile per hour heater that ended up in the glove of Allen Craig. Of course, the player who threw that pitch is fan favorite, Jason Motte. After that season, Motte had an incredible 42 save season, and things were looking good for the Cardinals reliever.
Of course, this did not last as Motte tore his right UCL and did not pitch during the 2013 season. After a few one year stints with the Cubs, Rockies, and Braves, Motte is back. The important question is, can he be an effective reliever for the Cardinals in 2018?
Unfortunately, the answer is probably not. Motte was signed to a minor league deal, so the Cardinals are most likely looking for a veteran presence throughout spring training, and most likely will assign Motte to AAA rather than keeping him on the roster.
The most troubling thing for the 35 year old is his velocity. As power arms usually do, Motte has started to lose the ability to throw with the velocity that he once had. This is partially due to the injury he sustained, but Motte was effective because he threw hard.
Right now in baseball, with starters throwing harder than ever, relievers have matched them. It is not uncommon to see triple digits on the radar gun anymore, and unfortunately, Motte is no longer capable of hitting that number.
As would be expected with a drop in velocity is a drop in stats. Illustrated by his ERA ballooning to north of 3.50 each of the last three seasons, Motte is clearly not the pitcher that he once was in St. Louis. Even more concerning is his K/9, or strikeouts per nine innings. Motte registered a 5.98 K/9 last season. That was the worst number posted by a qualified reliever. To put that in perspective, Craig Kimbrel had a 16.9 K/9 for the Boston Red Sox last year.
Fortunately, Motte has a few things going for him. First of all, the Cardinals might be incentivized to keep him around for the sole purpose of selling jerseys. Just like Russell Wilson and Tim Tebow, Motte can sell jerseys for the team even if he spends the entire season on the minor league roster. Money has a funny way of making people make irrational baseball decisions (looking at you, Giancarlo).
In terms of actual capability, Motte has shown that he can be an effective reliever in the past. He might never be his 2012 self, but he did pitch in 57 games for the Cubs in 2015.
He would need to show that he can locate pitches well, especially given his 94 mile per hour fastball, but a little insurance in the backend of the bullpen is never a bad thing. He has said that he knows how to pinpoint his pitches because “even when [Motte] was throwing really, really fast, you have to locate...if you throw down the middle, these guys are going to hit it.”
Furthermore, Motte is a great guy for the younger players to learn from. He has dealt with injury and come back from it. He has plenty of postseason experience, and guys can go to him for information on handling the pressure of being a professional baseball player.
The Cardinals do not have a lot of room for Motte on the roster, however. John Brebbia, Ryan Sherriff, Josh Lucas, and Ryan Helsley are all vying for roster spots, and Motte would most likely have to show that his skills are improved from last year in order to beat out some of these guys.
It is certainly nice to have Jason Motte back in St. Louis, even though he probably won’t make too many appearances for the big league club. Baseball is a sport with a lot of injuries, and Motte is a guy the Cardinals could bring in if anything major were to happen injury wise.
There is still plenty of time before the rosters are decided, and maybe Motte could just prove to the Cardinals that he deserves a spot. Hopefully, this season ends with a pitch from Jason Motte just like it did in 2011.