Monday, February 28, 2011
Looking Ahead To 2011 - Jesus Montero
On a team loaded with players who are past their peak, there may not be a more intriguing player than Jesus Montero. He’s listed as one of the top 10 prospects in baseball in just about every list I’ve seen.
At the tender age of 20, Montero has stomped through the minors, hitting a collective .314/.371/.511 in his first four professional seasons and now sits on the cusp of making his MLB debut after a strong season in AAA in 2010, where he hit .289/.353/.517 in 504 PA.
That’s an impressive overall line, especially for someone who may be able to play catcher at the MLB level, but hidden in the line is the way Montero finished the year. Here are Montero’s 2010 splits by month.
babip: Batting average on balls in play
gb%: Percentage of batted balls that were ground balls
ld% Percentage of batted balls that were line drives
fb%: Percentage of batted balls that were fly balls
pop%: Percentage of batted balls that were infield pop ups
hr/fb: Percentage of fly balls that were home runs
Over the last four months of the season, Montero hit .323/.380/.605 in 326 PA. The peripherals in his underlying stats point to some bad luck in April/May and some better luck from June through September, but regardless, Montero was a beast after a slow start.
You can use selective endpoints to pretend someone is better or worse than they are, but as I’ve mentioned before I’m more inclined to see them as genuine signs of development for a minor league player, particularly one at Montero’s age.
Here’s how Montero projects in 2011.
wOBA: Weighted on-base average (does not include SB/CS)
BR: Linear weights batting runs
BR/650: BR pro-rated to 650 PA
BRAA: BR above an average player in projected playing time (adjusted for park, but not for position)
BRAR: BR above a replacement level player (adjusted for park and position)
2010: Un-adjusted 2010 performance
*average does not include bill_james or fans
There’s very little question about Montero’s bat playing in MLB right now. CAIRO is actually the least optimistic system about Montero on a rate basis, although that’s because it doesn’t realize he’s a Yankee since he hasn’t played for them yet. Once you account for that, a more realistic CAIRO projection would be something like .500/.600/.800.
Seriously though, that is a tremendous set of offensive projections, particularly for a catcher. According to ZiPS creator Dan Szymborski:
I have 4 catchers offensively in the last 40 years (including minor league translations) at the level of Montero at his age: Bench, Simmons, Carter, and Montero (they show up pretty soon in his comp list).
A full-time Montero would project to be worth almost four wins above a replacement level catcher offensively. Oh, and he’s 21. If the average projection is a true gauge of his current offensive level and he makes the standard gains a player makes in their early to mid-20s, he’d have a realistic chance at being a five wins above replacement level catcher offensively.
Here are Montero’s CAIRO percentile forecasts.
Anything less than that 80% projection is unacceptable IMO.
I’m going to imagine that Montero’s not much of a base runner, although hopefully he won’t be Posada-level horrific.
And this is really the biggest question with Montero. Before he wound up on the side of a milk carton, Kyle took a look at Montero’s defense, comparing Montero to his teammates while looking at just about every area that the catcher could possibly impact. His conclusion?
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.
Kyle noted that there is the dreaded small sample size issue with his analysis, and also made the point that none of what he founds means Montero can’t improve. I also wonder if some of the limitations in Montero’s game are more apparent when receiving minor league pitchers who may not have the command that MLB pitchers will have. Of course, MLB pitchers throw harder and have nastier pitches which will present a whole new set of challenges.
But frankly, we just don’t know. With Joe Girardi, Tony Pena and Jorge Posada around, the Yankees have close to 5000 MLB games caught worth of potential mentors to Montero, although hopefully he pays less attention to Posada and more to Pena.
Russell Martin is likely to be the primary starter behind the plate at the start of 2011. However, if he underperforms or Montero shows enough offensively and defensively to be a clear upgrade on Martin, Montero will almost certainly get some significant playing time. If he’s the backup to Martin, he will also probably see some time at DH. I’m not sure if they’d consider him playing some first base, and the Yankees may want to avoid overloading him with things to learn right now so it’s probably not something we’ll see in 2011.
This season has a chance to be a very interesting one if Montero and some of the pitching prospects get to show what they can do at the MLB level. There may be some bumps in the road along the way, but it’ll be fun to watch, even if the Yankees fail to make it into the postseason.
Montero wasn’t the big story out of yesterday’s game though.
And if it is true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, at least Betances can rest his head tonight knowing that he made a good one. The 22-year-old struck out the side around a walk, firing a fastball that had the Yankees asking questions.
“Hey,” Curtis Granderson asked a reporter, looking up from his locker and nodding toward Betances. “How fast did they get him?”
The answer, at least according to the YES Network, was up to 97 mph. Pitching the fifth inning of the Yankees’ 7-3 win, the 6-foot-8 Betances struck out Domonic Brown and Ben Francisco before he lost Carlos Ruiz to a walk. Betances came back to fan Wilson Valdez for the third out.
“Pretty good for the first time being out there,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “You kind of want to see how the kids react the first time out and what they do the next couple after that. I’m sure there are some emotions that go in there, some butterflies. There have got to be.”
Betances is probably still a very long shot to make the Opening Day MLB roster, but a few more outings like yesterday’s and he may force himself onto the team.
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