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Jason Motte: Crazy? Awesome? Or Crazy Awesome?

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You know, it's kinda funny how sometimes you fail to really recognize something right in front of your face, even when it's sort of a big deal. So it was for me. 

I was watching the Cardinals last night, watching Edwin Jackson allow eleven base runners in five and a third innings before leaving with an injury (just a dynamite pickup, that), and then Jason Motte entered the ballgame to pull Jackson's irons out of the fire. (Irons is the polite version of what I had originally planned on saying, by the way. If you want the uncensored version come back for my midnight post. I have to warn you, though. It gets a little blue.) As Motte came stomping in from the 'pen, I thought to myself, "You know, Motte's been doing this fireman thing a bunch lately. He's been pretty good, too, I think." 

At which point it occurred to me I really don't know exactly how good Jason Motte has actually been this year other than in a very general way, so I grabbed the laptop and pulled up his season line. Suffice to say, I was shocked at myself for somehow failing to notice that Jason Motte has been one of the best relievers in all of baseball this year. 

On the season, Motte is sporting a shiny 1.90 ERA, to go a long with a 2.49 FIP. That compares favorably with the seasons being had by pitchers like Mariano Rivera (2.48 FIP), Jordan Walden (2.47), Daniel Bard (3.03), Carlos Marmol (3.06), and -- ahem -- Heath Bell (2.88). Note that Bard is the only one of that group not currently shouldering the closer role, and only because of the presence of Jonathan Papelbon

Even more than his overall season line, though, Motte's performance since the beginning of July is just otherwordly. Since June gave way to July, a time period in which Motte has played in 21 games, accounting for 14.2 innings, he's struck out 12, allowed 10 hits, and walked just one batter. That's right, he's walked one hitter in the last month and a half. Oh, and he hasn't allowed any runs, either. Zero. Nada. Zilch. The last run Jason Motte gave up came on the 23rd of June against the Phillies

What is a little odd about Motte's usage during this time period is the fact he hasn't thrown more than one inning in any outing. In fact, he's thrown less than a full inning in 14 of those 21 appearances. Jason Motte is, in short, basically fulfilling the wet dream of old-school bullpen watchers and newfangled sabermetric types alike: he's been the best reliever on the team, but he isn't closing. Instead, he's appearing anywhere from the sixth to ninth innings, taking care of the highest-leverage situations that come up. As much as I criticise Tony La Russa for myriad reasons, his use of Motte the past six weeks or so has been nothing short of brilliant. 

So can Motte maintain this recent level of performance? Well, in short, no, but only because no reliever maintains a 0.00 ERA for all that long. As for his season line, though, the only real red flag is the fact his home run rate is probably unsustainable. Eventually Motte is going to give up a few long balls, and his numbers are going to suffer as a result. Even when that day comes, though, Jason Motte will still have some pretty phenomenal numbers next to his name. I admit when the Cards traded away Chris Perez two years ago to bring in Mark DeRosa, I wished it had been Motte instead. I thought he was a one-trick pony, whereas Perez had the potential for a pair of plus-plus pitches. Time has proven me wrong. Motte may still be a one-trick pony (one and a half, tops), but looking at what's he accomplished this season for the Redbirds I have to admit it's one hell of a trick. 
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