Is Baseball’s Most Improved Hitter…Taylor Motter?

Statcast! Who doesn’t love playing with Statcast? Baseball Savant makes it all possible, so let’s take a quick look at a 2017 vs. 2016 comparison. I looked at every hitter with at least 30 batted balls in each of the last two seasons. Here’s a plot of all of their changes in average exit velocity and average launch angle. One data point is highlighted.

The point I highlighted belongs to Taylor Motter. There’s a pretty great chance you’ve never even heard of Taylor Motter. He was a quiet acquisition, and he might not even be playing in the majors were it not for health issues with Shawn O’Malley and Jean Segura. But there’s Motter, a utility type with a 179 wRC+. Last season, in exit velocity, he ranked in the 25th percentile, by names like Eduardo Escobar and Chris Stewart. So far this season, he ranks in the 97th percentile. In fact, here’s the whole top 10!

  1. Miguel Sano
  2. Joey Gallo
  3. Miguel Cabrera
  4. Nick Castellanos
  5. Khris Davis
  6. Freddie Freeman
  7. Taylor Motter
  8. Yandy Diaz
  9. Manny Machado
  10. Aaron Judge

Very strong, dangerous hitters. Also Yandy Diaz and Taylor Motter. Diaz is interesting, but he’s also hit a bunch of grounders. Motter’s been elevating, and when you look at that plot, his launch angle is up four degrees, and his exit velocity is up nine ticks. Sano has the next-biggest exit-velocity gain, at +6.7. Then it’s Castellanos, at +5.3. No one else has reached +4. Obviously, the samples are small, too small to arrive at certain conclusions, but Motter might’ve seen this as his best shot at building a career. Here he is, and with the Mariners having dropped Leonys Martin yesterday, Motter could stick around, playing all over semi-regularly.

If you watch Taylor Motter go deep, he looks like a home-run hitter. Like, everything about this seems perfectly natural.

Yet here’s the real trick. What’s driving Motter’s early success? Why couldn’t he do this in a brief stint last season? Motter is trying to hit literally everything to left field. He’s trying to make the most of the bat speed he has.

Nobody has a higher pull rate than Motter’s 72%. Only Trevor Plouffe has a lower opposite-field rate than Motter’s 5%. Motter’s been hunting pitches he can elevate and pull, and he’s gotten enough of them to accomplish what he’s accomplished. If you’re curious, since 2002, the highest single-season pull rate for a qualified hitter has been 64%, by 2003 Tony Batista. If you drop the minimum to 250 plate appearances, then the highest pull rate is 66%, by 2002 Greg Vaughn. Pull hitters like Vaughn, Batista, Marcus Thames, and Gary Sheffield don’t really work for me as potential Motter comps.

No, I think there’s an obvious one, here. There’s a decent chance Motter will be exposed over a greater period of time. It might even be a good chance. Motter, after all, struggled just last season. But if he holds to this approach, and if it works for him, you could see him as someone in the Brian Dozier mold. Dozier became a quality everyday player when he started to pull the ball aggressively in the air. Pitchers haven’t been able to solve him yet, after a handful of years. Given a good-enough eye and quick-enough hands, a hitter can survive like this, essentially eliminating half of the field. It’s no way to be *great*, but one can be good. Or even just useful.

Taylor Motter isn’t Brian Dozier, officially. But he’s channeled Dozier in getting to this point, where he’s currently the most-searched player on Sometimes baseball makes me write the weirdest damn sentences.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

Who’s that to Motter’s left in the graph?