Sunday, August 15, 2010
Just how offensive is Montero’s defense?
Reports of Montero’s defense this year, as always, have been overwhelmingly negative. He leads the International League in passed balls, still has trouble throwing out runners, and is a poor receiver. The reports aren’t surprising, but still a bit disappointing. Still, I wanted to see if there is a Montero effect, so I decided to look at Scranton’s gamelogs to see how Scranton pitchers fared with Montero behind the plate versus the other four that have caught.
First, I want to make it clear there is a serious sample size issue. It’s not even quite one year of data and Montero has caught all but 300 innings this year. Second, while I didn’t see any pattern of Montero being rested for a specific pitcher, it’s still possible he caught a higher percentage of worse pitchers’ innings. I don’t think that’s the case – or if so, it’s an insignificant difference – but it’s worth mentioning. Finally, as far as I am aware, nobody has found a significant difference between major league catchers impact on pitching staffs. Of course the key point there is major league catchers, and I do believe the reason there’s not a big difference in major league catchers is because MLB teams simply don’t mess around with catchers that have insufficient receiving, game calling, and blocking skills. Assuming that’s the case, there should be a noticeable difference between major league caliber catchers and guys that aren’t.
In this case, Montero is being compared to three guys that have caught at least 50 major league games and a career minor leaguer.
To state the obvious, Montero does an awful job blocking balls in the dirt. His PB rate is nearly three times that of his teammates, and Scranton pitchers are charged with more WP when he’s the catcher, too. Over 130 games, Montero would be expected to give up 14 PB and 28 more WP than his teammates, which would be about 11 runs (7.5 runs below IL average rates).
Montero’s arm, however, has not been quite as poor as expected/advertised. His CS% is a bit below average, but far better than his teammates’ – runners have also run more often on his teammates, though they do run against Montero at a rate far higher than the league average. I don’t doubt that he has a poor arm, but I suspect Scranton pitchers aren’t doing a very good job with baserunners either.
I think I could live with the passed balls and stolen bases assuming Montero improves even a tiny bit, but the biggest concern I have after collecting this data is Montero’s receiving. Pitchers simply don’t throw as many strikes with him catching, and their BB/9 is 0.94 higher while their SO/9 is 0.56 lower. Scranton pitchers have an ERA over half a run worse with Montero behind the dish (and the FIP difference is 0.40 runs, or about 52 runs over 130 games). However bad Montero may be, I don’t believe he’s truly responsible for the whole difference, but the difference is far greater than I expected when I started the process.
I hope to be able to do this for previous years as well, although I’m having some trouble finding boxscores for previous years. If Montero really affects his pitchers anywhere near this much, I don’t think he has any chance of ever being more than an emergency catcher in the majors (nor would I want him to catch any more often). He is young, but I think his size makes it less likely he improves significantly, and if previous years’ data is similar to this year’s, he’ll have to.