We recently talked on the podcast  about the Giants resigning Guillermo Mota to a minor league contract: a move that we both liked considering its decent upside (a decent season from a pretty-good-not-great relief pitcher), and its very low downside. He earned $750,000 in 2010, and will probably earn even less than that this year, particularly if he spends the season in the minors.
I was having lunch with my dad and we were talking about it, and we were a little surprised that he would sign in the minors, considering that he was a big part of the stellar bullpen on the world championship team. He certainly had the swagger of an All-Star, and the game face to give the impression that he was a necessary part of any bullpen. His season numbers told something of a different story.
Still, how could we get such different impressions? The whole notion of statistics is to make evaluations clearer, not muddle things up even more. So let’s take a look.
Here are Mota’s season stats from 2010:
|2010||36||SFG ||NL ||1||3||4.33||56||17||1||54.0||49||29||26||4||22||5||38||0||0||5||228||94||1.315||8.2||0.7||3.7||6.3||1.73|
So there we have it. A losing record, a mediocre ERA and a lukewarm WHIP. But let’s see if we can get a little more insight out of these stats.
First of all, throw out that W-L record. He’s a relief pitcher, and even the last few people holding onto old-school metrics wouldn’t hold his record against him. To a certain extent, you can also almost throw out his ERA. Earned Run Average is a great stat for measuring a player’s average performance, 9 innings at a time. It’s really useful for starting pitchers who stay on the mound for 5+ innings at a time, but it does little to describe a relief pitcher’s true effectiveness. Often relief pitchers come into games with runners on base, and are expected to “get out” of tough situations. However, if those runs score, it hurts the ERA of the pitcher who let them on base, who is not necessarily the pitcher currently on the mound. Thus, you could have a relief pitcher who comes into tough spots and always lets the runners on base score, and he’d have a stellar ERA. He wouldn’t have a job, but he’d have a good ERA. So let’s ignore Mota’s until we see where it came from.
When I started looking at Mota’s game logs from 2010 , it didn’t take long to see where his dominant image came from. He truly was lights-out in the month of April. In 9 appearances between April 7 and April 26, he pitched brilliantly, giving up zero runs, earned or unearned, and didn’t even allow an inherited runner to score (he had 3 inherited runners during that time). He pitched at least an inning all but two times, His worst statistical performance during that time was April 21, when he allowed runners to reach first and third with none out, before getting a flyball, a popup, and a flyball to get out of the inning with no damage done. Pretty impressive.
The problem with perfection, though, is that it can only go down from there. His ERA climbed to a still-impressive 1.53 in May, after giving up three ERs across 10 pitching opportunities. He gave up a run in a 6-1 Giants victory on May 1, got a save for a perfect 12th inning of work on May 4th (my birthday!), but lost a game giving up a walk-off home run to the Mets on May 8th in the 11th inning. He struck out only 5 batters in May, but walked only 1, pitching 9.1 innings. He pitched at least an inning in all but 3 of his outings, and never pitched on consecutive days. He was also somewhat less consistent at his “getting out of it” skill, as he allowed inherited runners to score all four times he came in with runners on base.
June was kinder to Mota, in a way. His ERA flirted with the the 3’s, but finished at 2.67. He pitched 12 2/3 innings in 14 appearances, in which he struck out 8 while walking 7. His ERA spike came across two terrible games: June 10 – in which he gave up 4 hits and 3 ERs in one inning and took a Blown Save/Loss – and June 12 – in which he gave up a hit and 2 walks, and 2 runs, without recording an out. Aside from those two nightmarish outings, he gave up only one other run that month and stranded 4/4 inherited runners. He finished the month strong, pitching 3 innings on three consecutive days, allowing 2 hits but accumulating 4 strikeouts, and didn’t allow a run.
July appears to have been Mota’s undoing. He gave up runs or inherited runs in 7 of his 9 appearances, including the terrible 15-inning loss to the Rockies on July 4th. August started off well for Mota with a perfect inning each on three separate outings, but he gave up earned runs in six consecutive relief outings, almost always coming into games that the Giants were losing and giving up any hope that the Giants had of making a comeback. Everyone on the team was pretty terrible in the month of August, and Mota was no exception, watching his ERA jump from 3.35 to 4.78.
Mota was famously turfed to the disabled list, to make room for Cody Ross, with something called IT Band Syndrome, whatever the hell that is. He came back suspiciously healthy in September/October and finished the year with some nice pitching, including two perfect innings on October 2.
In 2010, Mota threw his fastball 70.2% of the time, averaging 93.9 mph, and offset it with a slider and changeup. He had an aLI (average leverage index) of .779, tied for second-lowest on the team with Denny Bautista, which means that he was used in low-leverage situations. An aLI of 1 would be average. Affeldt (1.212), Romo (1.217), Casilla (1.241) and Wilson (2.130) were the Giants pitchers with above-average aLIs, for obvious reasons.
So where does that leave us? Guillermo Mota was a 36 year-old right-handed relief pitcher. He has the power to throw more than one inning at a time, but also has the propensity to give up extra-base hits and sometimes let a close game get out of hand. He has flashes of brilliance, but he also has flashes of non-brilliance, in which he throws several poor games in a row. He doesn’t strike out many hitters, but doesn’t walk many hitters. He doesn’t pitch often in high-leverage situations because the Giants leadership doesn’t have the confidence to put him in high-leverage situations, which is probably wise.
So there it is. He wasn’t the best relief pitcher on the Giants, but he wasn’t the worst. If he pitches like he did in the beginning of 2010, he’ll be a valuable and useful member of the bullpen. If, however, he ends up like he was in the end of the year, he’ll probably barely see the mound all year, and even then only in long relief situations, especially considering the Front Office’s interest in developing former long-relief-man Dan Runzler as a starting pitcher. I predict that we will see Mota back in the major league bullpen sometime this year, as he’s a decent option to offset the extremely talented relievers on the Giants. His streakiness show me that he has confidence issues of some type, and hopefully a stint in Fresno will help him get his swagger back. But then again, he’s 36, and it would be a long shot to say that his playing time will increase in the years to come. I’ll be rooting for him, but not counting on him.