Motte, Feliz Continue Tradition

Brian Wilson. Mariano Rivera. Brad Lidge. Jonathan Papelbon — and in 2011, either Jason Motte or Neftali Feliz. Moreso than any other position in baseball, the dominant closer has become the common thread amongst World Series winners. Both Tony LaRussa and Ron Washington have to feel confident in handing the ball to their designated closers. In essence, it’s a race to get to the closers. Let’s take a look at the two who will be participating in the Fall Classic.

Motte has been in the Cardinals organization since 2003, when he was drafted in the 19th round out of Iona College. Oh, and he was drafted as a catcher, a position he played until 2006. That year, the Cardinals converted him to the mound based on his arm strength, and in 2007 they and placed him on the 40-Man Roster to avoid exposing him to other teams in the Rule V Draft. It was an experiment that is starting to look genius. This season, Motte — armed with a fastball averaging 96.3 MPH — registered 8.34 K/9 and 2.12 BB/9, equaling a stellar K/BB rate of 3.94. He allowed just 6.5 H/9 and was remarkably stingy (or lucky) in allowing the long ball. He served up just two in 68 innings, a miniscule HR/9 rate of 0.26. Home runs represented just 2.9% of the fly balls Motte allowed in 2011. This postseason, Motte has been flat-out dominant. Sure, the 8 IP, 1 H, 7/0 K/BB and 4/4 in saves line is impressive, but consider that he’s thrown a total of 87 pitches this post-season, and 69 of them have been strikes. What we are seeing is a flame-throwing, strike-throwing machine — a true rarity in this game.

Motte’s counterpart, Neftali Feliz, also runs his fastball into the upper 90s, but with less precision. Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Atlanta Braves in 2005, Feliz came over to Texas in 2007 as part of the Mark Teixeira trade. Unlike Motte, Feliz has not coupled his electric fastball with superior command. This season saw him post fairly pedestrian 7.8 K/9 and 4.33 BB/9 rates (1.88 K/BB). Still, he was tough to hit. He allowed just 42 H in 62.1 IP and was tough to take deep, especially down the stretch — the last of the four home runs he allowed this season came on June 22nd at home against the Astros, a remarkable accomplishment given that half of his games were played in homer-happy Arlington, TX. Feliz has now accrued significant postseason experience, and his numbers show that he’s the same pitcher, regardless of the time of year – walks a few too many, but does not allow many hits. His 15.0 innings have seen him unintentionally walk eight hitters, but he’s allowed just six hits in that same span.

Perhaps, Feliz’ future is in the rotation: C.J. Wilson‘s impending free-agency could spark those discussions in the Rangers front-office once again. Regardless, he’s their closer now, and the guy that will undoubtedly be the favorite to be the last man standing this World Series. But the Cardinals like their guy, too, and in the battle of the closers, they get the edge.

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14 Responses to “Motte, Feliz Continue Tradition”

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  1. CircleChange11 says:

    For people that act like every ML’er can blast away at a 95+ mph fastball, even in the heart of the plate, I request you watch Jason Motte pitch.

    Seriously, it’s as basic of a windup as one can get, the ball doesn’t have much movement, and he’s challenging you all the time … and there’s not a well developed second pitch. He’s not deceiving with mechanics, movement, or sequencing.

    When I look at closer’s innings I like to look at what part of the order they face. Since they face only a handful of batters, and fewer innings all around, it can make a big difference in small samples.

    For example, in game 5 of the LDS when Carpenter was just rolling, TLR elected to have Carp bat in the 8th, and then pitch the 8th AND the 9th, instead of using 2 relievers in the 8th, and Motte in the 9th. Motte would have faced, Utley, Pence, and Howard in the 9th. That’s quite a bit different that blowing away the bottom third of MIL’s lineup. Granted there’s more confidence in the bullpen at this point.

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    • Eric Farris says:

      Motte’s windup isn’t as basic as it gets. He cocks his hand behind his ear when he throws and his delivery is quite herky jerky. The old adage is that even a 100 mph fastball over the heart of the plate will routinely get crushed by major league pitching. Well, there are many other factors to consider such as pitch selection prior to down the middle fastballs, location of prior pitches, movement on fastball, delivery of pitcher, quality of hitters, hitters’ plans at the plate, game situation, scouting report on pitcher, etc.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        He pitches like a catcher (for obvious reasons)

        Bring the ball to your ear, rotate like hell. It’s as basic as it gets.

        As one that teaches people how to pitch, it’s difficult to think of a more basic delivery.

        Motte’s delivery would not be described as herky jerky, IMO.

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      • yt says:

        FWIW, I read somewhere that Cruz’s late inning HR off Verlander (clocked at 99.9mph) was the fastest ball all year to be taken yard.

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    • Zach says:

      This is true but Motte has blown away the best batters in baseball all season long. I think that it more an effect of TLR’s love of match-ups, rather than the suggestion that Motte can’t get the job done

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I think on that night, on the road, elimination game, and the way carp was throwing, TLR was going Carp all the way.

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    • Atom says:

      Announcers typically talk about how Jason Motte throws with an odd motion and hides the ball when throwing. I only see him from the back end, so I’ll take their word for it.

      Motte’s last 2 seasons combined:
      2.24 ERA
      8.8 k/9
      2.5 BB/9
      0.5 HR/9
      120.3 IP

      That’s certainly a lot of 7, 8 and 9 hitters!

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  2. GiantHusker says:

    “…it’s a race to get to the closers”? If you think that’s all the game is about, you have no business writing for FanGraphs (or any other baseball site).

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    • Nathaniel Stoltz says:

      That might not be the ideal way to do it, but if that’s the way the managers are setting it up (assuming the closer is the best reliever in the bullpen, which isn’t always the case), then it does turn into that, somewhat, in the playoffs. Certainly an overused cliche, though, and not the ideal management style.

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    • Notrotographs says:

      Boom goes the strawman.

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  3. joser says:

    Perhaps, Feliz’ future is in the rotation: C.J. Wilson‘s impending free-agency could spark those discussions in the Rangers front-office once again.

    When Francona was filling in for McCarver on the Fox broadcast, I unmuted the sound in the hopes that he would say something interesting or informative to balance out Buck. In particular, when Feliz came into the game, I was desperately hoping Buck would ask him about precisely this, given the Papelbon starting experiment in Boston. Alas…

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  4. IvanGrushenko says:

    Is Motte the Closer for St Louis now?

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  5. Bob says:

    As far as Motte’s ability to neutralize the better MLB hitters, he had exactly 100 PAs in 2011 versus hitters 3-6.

    He allowed a collective slash line of .144/.230/.200

    Yeah, a .200 slugging percentage.

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