When Jean Segura went down with his hamstring injury, the expectation was that the Mariners would just survive the ten days before he made his return. That’s the thing about depth, the backup player isn’t supposed to be as good as the player they’re replacing. But here’s Taylor Motter sporting a .290/.353/.710 slash line in eleven games. Since taking over at shortstop, he’s had three multi-hit games, seven extra-base hits, and he’s played good defense to boot.
I hinted at some of his success in my article yesterday. If he qualified, his average exit velocity would be tied for third highest in baseball with Freddie Freeman. Almost 60% of his balls in play have been hit harder than 98 mph off the bat. But if we dig a little deeper, we find some really interesting trends. First, I’ll present these three screenshots of Motter’s three home runs at the point of contact.
All three home runs came off pitches on the inner half of the plate. Two of them were off fastballs in a 0-1 count and his first came off a slider in a 1-0 count. In fact, if you look at his strike zone plot colored by exit velocity, you’ll start to see exactly what Motter is looking to do at the plate.
Motter is absolutely destroying pitches on the inner half of the plate. His average exit velocity jumps up to 98.2 mph on inside pitches. If you look at a map of his swing rates, it’s clear that he’s selectively hunting for pitches on the inner half that he can handle.
One of the things that the Mariners coaching staff has preached is knowing your strengths and having a plan at the plate. Motter knows that he can turn around an inside fastball, he’s been getting the pitches he wants, and he’s been executing to perfection. Here’s what he said to Bob Dutton yesterday:
“I think it’s helping that I’m getting my fastballs. I hit a slider out the other night. I'm getting pitches up in the zone, pitches that I can handle. And I’m not missing them.”
Not missing them indeed. This type of aggressive approach isn’t just an artifact from his brief sample size this year. If you look at his swing rates from his short time in the majors last season, a similar pattern emerges.
With such an aggressive approach on inside pitches, it should be no surprise that a majority of his balls in play are hit to the pull side. Last year, 48.4% of his balls in play went to left field, a rate that placed him in the 90th percentile of all batters in the majors.
Of course, opposing pitchers will soon learn to avoid pitching on the inside half of the plate. At that point, Motter will have to make some adjustments. But the framework of Motter’s plan at the plate shouldn’t change. Jose Bautista reignited his career with a similar plan at the plate. Pitchers can’t avoid the inner half completely, and when he sees a pitch he wants, Motter has shown the ability to aggressively punish it. With Jean Segura’s impending return, Motter should continue to see time all around the diamond. It’s a nice luxury to have a utility player who has hit his way into the lineup on a consistent basis.