By Mike Steffanos
Guillermo Mota was originally signed by the Mets as a 17-year-old amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1990. Mota was an infielder back then, playing mostly shortstop and some 3B in the Mets organization from 1993-1996. The Mets lost Mota in the rule 5 draft in December 2006 to the Expos, who immediately converted the light-hitting but strong-armed Mota to a pitcher.
He quickly established himself as a pitching prospect with Montreal. In 1999 Baseball America named him the number four prospect in the Expos system. Here is a portion of the scouting report:
Strengths: In an organization of hard throwers, Mota easily lays claim to the top fastball. He throws a 98 mph heater and a plus slider. The Expos say he has an uncanny ability to throw strikes. He also has a carefree attitude on the mound that hitters mistake for arrogance, but the Expos feel that contributes to his mystique.
Weaknesses: Mota had elbow surgery for an unusual bone injury in August 1997, and the Expos were conservative in his rehab in 1998. He'll go full-steam this year. He needs to use the inside of the plate more and try to get hitters to chase more balls.
Guillermo Mota made it to the majors in 1999 with the Expos, and had a solid year out of the bullpen with a 2.93 ERA in 51 games. He struggled over the next two seasons, though, shuttling between the majors and minors in 2000 and spending 6 weeks on the DL with a bad shoulder in 2001. Just before the start of the 2002 season he was traded to the Dodgers for reliever Matt Herges.
He had a decent year with LA in 2002, but really blossomed as one of the top setup men in baseball in 2003 thanks to learning the changeup from Eric Gagne. He continued to dominate the following season, when he was part of a big multi-player deal between the Dodgers and Marlins that saw Mota, Juan Encarnacion and Paul Lo Duca head east in return for Brad Penny and Hee Seop Choi. Mota wasn't quite as dominant in those last 2 months in Miami as he had been with LA.
In 2005 with the Marlins, Mota spent most of May on the DL with elbow problems. He came back to pitch fairly well, but wasn't the same overpowering eighth inning man he was in LA. After the season, he was traded to Boston in the Josh Beckett deal, and two months later was dealt again in the trade with the Indians that brought Coco Crisp to Boston.
Although by all accounts Mota was throwing the ball well in Cleveland, his numbers were terrible. He had begun to pitch a little better in July, notching a 3.86 ERA in 10 appearances, but by then the Indians had seen enough. The Mets picked him up for a player to be named later, hoping that moving back to the National League and reuniting with catcher Paul Lo Duca would resurrect his career. It went better than anyone could have hoped, at least until he tried to throw one fastball too many in Game 2 of the NLCS. Based on his strong finish in 2006, the Mets elected to sign him to a 2-year deal after the season -- despite learning that Mota had failed a drug test and would miss the first 50 games of 2007.
Here are Guillermo Mota's major league numbers from his first season in LA in 2002 through last year:
|2002 - LAD||43||60.2||6.7||7.3||4.0||0.6||4.15||.202||.336||1.19|
|2003 - LAD||76||105.0||6.7||8.5||2.2||0.6||1.97||.206||.296||0.99|
|2004 - LAD||52||63.0||7.3||7.4||3.9||0.6||2.14||.228||.317||1.24|
|2004 - FLA||26||33.2||6.4||8.8||2.7||1.1||4.81||.200||.333||1.01|
|2005 - FLA||56||67.0||8.7||8.1||4.3||0.7||4.70||.254||.445||1.45|
|2006 - CLE||37||37.2||10.8||6.5||4.6||2.2||6.21||.298||.550||1.70|
|2006 - NYM||18||18.0||5.0||9.5||2.5||1.0||1.00||.159||.286||0.83|
A more complete look at Mota's decline after leaving LA can be gleaned from his lefty/righty splits over his last 4 seasons:
|Guillermo Mota L/R Splits By Year|
It was developing a devastating changeup to go along with his high-octane fastball that enabled Mota to become a great setup man. When he was at his best, he dominated left-handers. One look at his 2005 and 2006 splits quickly tells you that his declining numbers against lefties was a big part of his overall degeneration. The OBP and SLG numbers in particular tell a story. We've read that Mota had begun to get away from that changeup and was overusing his fastball. This would make sense as a contributing cause his problems with left-handed batters. Also, the fastball that he was overusing had slipped somewhat from the high-90s heat of his heyday -- a drop that could be attributed to his age and high workload in 2003 and 2004, when he averaged 75 games and 100 innings per season.
It's doubtful that Guillermo Mota will ever be what he was in 2003 again. He'll be 33 next year, and that fastball -- while still excellent -- isn't what it used to be, particularly when he pitches back to back days. He could still be a very useful contributor to the bullpen once he returns from his suspension, provided he uses the changeup to set up the fastball. Beyond his contributions on the field, you would hope that he could take on somewhat of a mentor role to fellow Dominican Ambiorix Burgos, whose terrible splits against lefties cry out for an effective changeup.
Oh, and because I know this is going to come up -- I'm not particularly concerned with the suspension for performance enhancers. He broke the rules, and the 50 game suspension is the punishment. I have no problem with the suspension, nor do I have a problem with Mota pitching for the Mets once it's over. From a moral standpoint, I've been consistent in avoiding looking for scapegoats for the steroid era. I'm not defending Mota because he is a Met -- I've avoided the urge to play the moral superiority card with McGwire, Bonds, Giambi et al. The truth is that with so many undetectable performance enhancers out there we simply don't know how many are cheating. Mota's crime was that he was dumb enough to get caught.
I have to laugh when I read some local and national baseball writers chastise the Mets for "rewarding" Mota, when these same writers never miss an opportunity to fawn all over Roger Clemens. Their efforts to seize the moral high ground come up short when they elect to damn some while ignoring inconvenient truths about others whom they wish to revere. To praise Clemens' "longevity" while choosing not to look too closely at the red flags thrown up over the years is the ultimate hypocrisy, and there are other equally blatant cases that reek of the same double standards. By the way, where were these guys when the balls were flying over the walls in the late 90s and they were ignoring rumors and writing about McGwire, Sosa and Bonds as heroes? Please spare me.
In any case, I expect Mota to take on some important innings when he returns, although if Aaron Heilman and Duaner Sanchez are both here and pitching well Mota's inning might tend to be the seventh rather than the eighth. Given the Mets starters are likely to be primarily 5 and 6 inning pitchers, there should be plenty of seventh innings to go around for the bullpen.
2007 Bullpen Previews:
Guillermo Mota (This Article)
Chan Ho Park
Four Other Names for You
2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up