Checking Taylor Motter

Taylor Motter made his big-league debut last season with the Tampa Bay Rays at age 26. He promptly went on to bat .188/.290/.300 in 34 games and 93 plate appearances. That equaled a .267 wOBA and 66 wRC+. In other words, he performed poorly at the plate in the small sample that was 2016.

Motter has flipped that script upside down in 2017. How?

First of all, it’s important to understand Motter, despite being old for the league every step of the way, hit well at most of his minor league assignments.

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Second, it’s important to note it’s a very small sample. Motter enters the series in Detroit batting .255/.321/.667 and some are wondering where the heck all of this production came from. You can fake it for a month — 56 plate appearances through Sunday.

There are multiple signs none of this is even remotely sustainable, starting with his 23 percent strikeout rate and all the randomness working in his favor thus far; 28.6 percent HR/FB, severe pull-jaded hit rate and the simple fact very few big-league hitters have the ability to sustain a home run rate of one per 11 plate appearances.

Power is the one area Motter simply cannot sustain his current success. The rest (.255/.321) is reasonable, and there’s evidence to suggest he might.

He’s always shown ability to draw his share of walks — even last season (11.8%) — and his MiLB scouting reports had ‘tracks the breaking ball well’ peppered all over just about every one of them.

There are other aspects of Motter’s game, however, that simply have gotten better.

Last season, Motter batted .240 with four of his five extra-base hits versus four-seam fastballs and .146 versus everything else, including .111 versus two-seamers/sinkers. You can bet the American League is going to employ more offspeed stuff, including sinkers and cutters.

Motter, however, may welcome such an attack.

Homers:

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And it’s not just the long ball.

Doubles:

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Singles:

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Eight of his 12 hits on anything but four-seamers, four on traditional off-speed pitches, two on cutters. I’d say this sample is as balanced as one could ask from any hitter and is at least Exhibit A suggesting Motter’s tracking the offspeed pitch better.

One might ask: “Has Motter’s Swing Changed?”

I always think the same thing, so I went and checked.

Yes, there are some slight differences.

Hand Placement

In the top picture, from May, 2016, you can see Motter starts with the bat rested on his shoulder. He then moves his hands slightly away from his body before triggering his swing. The bottom pitcure is from April 23, 2017. Clearly, Motter starts with the hands in a more rested, stable position, eliminating the extra, uncessary movement. This typically allows for a more consistent swing, which can increase consistency in the swing plane and may help the batter get to good velocity.

In the two screenshots, you can also see Motter is bending his knees more in 2017 and is a bit more open. At times, the more open stance is employed by hitters attempting to use their dominant eye more; if a right-handed batter is right-eye dominant, he might open up to use that eye from the start of the pitch’s path to the plate, rather than not at all, or only late in the process.

The knee-bend can have several benefits:

  • enbales front leg to land bent, which aids in the batter using his lower half to generate more power/better bat speed.
  • incrementally improves vision for the lower portion of the zone
  • Decreases the vertical strike zone
  • Increases hip rotation control

The open stance also can assist a hitter in covering the inner half of the plate while still allowing coverage of the outer half.

Motter versus inner half in 2016:

Motter this season:

Both are small samples, but that’s what we’re talking about here in the first place.

What’s Real, Then?

Certainly not Motter’s .667 slugging percentage, absurd HR/FB rate or the results he’s achieved on contact. But what could be legit is the batting average (.255) based on the chance he’s seeing the ball better, covering the plate more effectively and thus Motter’s improved chances to put the barrel on the ball — including versus offspeed pitches.

It’s far too early to draw even remote conclusions from any of the raw data but there are signs Motter is a different enough hitter in 2017 to suggest he can continue to be a value to the Mariners in 2017.

No, he shouldn’t start everyday, but as long as he’s consistent there’s no reason he can’t play a little more often than he otherwise would have (at 1B, LF, 2B, 3B, SS) until there’s reason not to do so. I presume this is what Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto have in mind with Jean Segura coming off the disabled list in Detroit.

Why Not Start Motter at 1B?

For one, it’s a waste of his versatility. If you want his bat in the lineup, there are a lot of ways to do it. Planting him at first base regularly kills his value; he won’t hit like a first baseman and he’s the backup at four other positions.

It’s also diluting a player; Remember Dae-Ho Lee a year ago? He was hitting well enough to be valuable and then the M’s began using him everyday when Adam Lind’s bat didn’t come around. The book was built quicker and Lee was exposed a lot sooner, leaving Seattle without even half a first baseman — which they had versus lefties before Lee was exposed.

The M’s are better off using Motter the way they originally planned, which could come in handy with Leonys Martin being DFA’s Sunday, thinning the outfield crop.

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Jason A. Churchill

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