Get Yer Mota Running

Mets pitcher Guillermo Mota reacts after yet another poor pitching performanceAnd head him out to the highway, please.

I can completely understand why Willie Randolph has been testing Guillermo Mota the last few weeks — after all, the guy has the best stuff (other than Wagner) in the bullpen. Very few pitchers can throw a moving 95-MPH fastball, command a nasty changeup, and also have a decent slider in their back pocket. Unfortunately, Mota is a head case, a pitcher with major confidence issues. In many ways, he’s not unlike Oliver Perez — if things are going well, Mota can be dominating. Hit with a few bad breaks, a bit of adversity, and focus goes out the window, pitches are left up over the plate, and balls are flying over fences.

In fact, I also understand why Willie put Mota out there with a tie game against the Phillies — it was a move of desperation. Willie gambled that Mota would magically find his mojo against the Phillies, and be able to ride that high through the end of the season. But in the end the move did more harm than good.

With Mota’s stuff and potential to dominate, Willie had to keep pushing Mota out there and hope he could string together a few good outings to get his confidence back up. Unfortunately, Mota has failed miserably time and time again, and the spots Randolph chose to test him were questionable. There’s the “tough guy” school of thought which says a man must prove his mettle by overcoming the most difficult challenges. However, everyone is built differently, and not every reliever is going to respond to such handling. Mota has been struggling since the day he returned from his 60-game suspension, and has been known to be emotionally fragile. No doubt the steroid cloud around him has affected him mentally in one way or another — for example, he may feel like he needs to juice to be effective; or, he may feel like he has to prove to people that he doesn’t need to cheat. Even without the steroid issue, Mota has had confidence issues based on his poor performance. Further, the hometown fans boo him unmercifully before he throws a pitch. He’s a professional, so you can say that shouldn’t affect him, but the fact is, it does. Observing at his body language and the scared look on his face, it’s clear that Mota is upset with the booing and is devoid of confidence. This time last year, Mota looked mean and full of energy; now, he looks terrified and waiting for a way out.

Again, you can say what you want — i.e., he’s getting paid $2M, he’s a pro, etc. — but that’s not what we’re arguing here. The point is, Mota is the Mets property whether you like it or not, and he’s a high-maintenance, highly skilled pitcher with the emotional fragility of an egg. He doesn’t respond to being thrown to the wolves, and most of us saw that way back in July. In September, Willie Randolph could have — and should have — eased him back into a groove. Treat him with kid gloves, give him ONE inning here and there in non-pressure situations. Let him slowly realize that he can get big-league batters out. Instead, Willie injects him into the middle of an inning with the bases loaded, or throws him into a tie ballgame, or pushes him a second inning after pitching a successful one. Some personality types — Billy Wagner, for one — might respond well to such handling. Not everyone does. If Mota did have that kind of personality, he’d be closing for someone else right now (another bright red flag for anyone who’s followed Mota’s career — he has the stuff of a closer, but never could handle the role). The definition of “managing” is to make the most of what you’re dealt with — you can’t play a five of clubs like it’s an ace of spades. For the most part, Willie does this well — with position players. But with the pitching staff, and specifically with Guillermo Mota, he has failed miserably.

At this point, trying to build Mota back up and making the best use of his god-given, superior skills is a lost cause. New York fans can be brutal, and he’s feeling the full brunt of their nastiness (much to the happiness of Scott Schoeneweis). With Mota’s checkered past with performance-enhancing drugs, there will be no feel-good standing ovation of support such as was given Carlos Delgado. Randolph can try to wean him back while on the road, but there’s really no time at this point in the season for Mota to get his confidence back. There are 14 games left, mostly against the Marlins and Nationals. Mota has pitched poorly in 11 of his last 18 appearances, and has an ERA around six. Striking out Nook Logan or Todd Linden in meaningless games against last-place teams won’t be enough to get Guillermo confident he can perform in the postseason.

So now the Mets are in a quandary. Outside of Aaron Heilman — who himself is not without questions — there is no one to count on to bridge the gap to Billy Wagner. Jorge Sosa looked like the answer for a short while, but his hocus-pocus act as a reliever faded more quickly than his startling success as a starter. Let’s face it, Sosa is the righthanded version of Sparky Lyle — a 95% slider pitcher — but his slider isn’t as good as Sparky’s was. If his slider isn’t biting hard, and/or batters aren’t chasing it, it’s only a matter of time before a ball finds the fence. We’d really like to believe Pedro Feliciano is dependable, but he’s been up and down. I won’t even allow The Show or Aaron Sele into the equation.

There are two weeks left in the regular season to find at least one, hopefully two, relievers for the postseason. Joe Smith needs to be tested. Philip Humber needs to be tested. Mike Pelfrey needs to be tested — though that’s going to be difficult if the Mets insist on a six-man rotation here on out. Maybe you promote another arm or two from the minors to see what you have. Maybe John Maine tries out the bullpen for a week. But the Guillermo Mota exam period has ended. It’s time to move on, and find a new solution, before time runs out.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. RockStar78 September 17, 2007 at 12:33 pm
    The question is, is it already too late to test someone else out? As you said, striking out Nook Logan or Todd Linden won’t matter much for Mota, so what’s the difference if Humber gets tested and succeeds? Is 5 or 6 successful appearances against the Nationals and Marlins going to be enough to merit a roster spot over Mota? I’d think that Joe Smith would have the best shot because he has proven he could get it done at the major league level already, but he just made only one appearance since getting called back up, and it was in a meaningless spot yesterday.
  2. joe September 17, 2007 at 1:04 pm
    I don’t think it’s too late to find out if someone else has potential — I think it’s too late to rebuild Mota’s lost confidence.

    Though you are probably right, if, say, Phil Humber retires guys like Logan, Linden, and Ronny Belliard, big whoop. However, if the kid shows he has a nasty enough curve and strong enough command to get guys out at this level, he could be a worthwhile option in the playoffs — mainly because of the “unknown” factor. In other words, the scouting reports will be thin on Humber, and he could surprise batters the first time around.

    Of course, this is all silly talk — Willie will never, EVER trust a kid in a tight situation in a meaningless contest against the Nats, much less a playoff game.

  3. RockStar78 September 17, 2007 at 1:29 pm
    True. That’s why I say Joe Smith has the only realistic shot because he has done it successfully before and although he is still a kid, Willie probably has a smidgen more trust in him as opposed to Humber or Pelfrey. Of course, if you ask Willie his opinion, since none of them have 30 years of service time, he’d probably say they all “have a long long long ways to go”
  4. isuzudude September 17, 2007 at 5:47 pm
    Joe, you know I’ve been the biggest Mota supporter/defender known to man this season. A few games ago against the Braves it looked as though Willie used Mota in a situation testing his toughness to get out of a situation, and we gave him an incomplete. Well, certainly on Sunday he failed. And I have to agree, although I still think he makes the postseason roster, he’s no longer a viable option out of the pen in big spots. His use essentially becomes 1)last guy out of the bullpen in an extra inning game, or 2) Mets are up or down by more than 4 runs in the late innings.

    I can’t say all the blame should be pinned on Willie for this situation, though. I agree Willie has used him, and the entire bullpen for that matter, very poorly this season. He’s a manager who tries to re-light an already used match. But he’s almost obligated to use Mota in big situations because it was Minaya who gave him the contract this offseason despite his steroid suspension. Whereas Willie deserves the blame for not nursing him back to success correctly, Omar disserves the blame for keeping this guy with the team.

    Mota reminds me alot of Carvajal, who you thought the Mets erred by dropping. Good stuff, but can’t get outs and has a fragile ego. Why does it seem like the Mets always wind up with these guys? Rojas. Benitez. Julio. Now Mota. Can we learn the lesson that 95 MPH fastballs are negated by pitchers who have no confidence or no comprehension of the strikezone?

  5. joe September 17, 2007 at 8:23 pm
    ** Can we learn the lesson that 95 MPH fastballs are negated by pitchers who have no confidence or no comprehension of the strikezone? **

    No, apparently not. Otherwise someone with some intestinal fortitude such as Scott Strickland would have been picked up.

    I don’t think Omar made such a snafu in signing Mota, for a relative pittance compared to other relievers with his talent. Granted, extracting his talent is an enormous challenge, but when the market calls for 3-year, $12M contracts for soft-tossers such as The Show and ChadBrad, the Mota deal looks like a logical gamble.