Coming into the season, the catcher position didn’t look too awful. There were the typical names atop draft lists in Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, and Carlos Santana and then there were a few I was targeting in later rounds in Wilin Rosario, Salvador Perez, and Jonathan Lucroy — the latter being better bargains in my mind. And yet in every draft I participated in (which will remain unpublished in case my wife is reading this. It’s three honey, just three leagues…) I was shut out, left to “punt” catcher, taking one in either the last round or for a flyer buck.
Who knew I’d be so lucky. In several of these leagues, my almost close-your-eyes-hold-your-nose-and-pick at catcher was Miguel Montero, who as you are probably well aware is producing like an elite backstop right now. The question on my mind, and many other managers, is whether he can keep this up.
What’s particularly remarkable about Montero’s statistics thus far isn’t his triple slash line or counting stats. Recall that he was an All-Star catcher not that long ago, good for a .280 average, 15 home runs, and 80+ RBI. It’s this:
Montero owns a 20% career strikeout rate, and in his two most recent seasons, it was escalating. In his first 157 plate appearances, Montero has struck out a total of 17 times. In his first 157 plate appearances in 2013, he had almost doubled that. It’s not all that frequent we see a thirty year old player completely alter their approach at the dish, but in the first quarter of the 2014 season, Montero has done just that. Looking at his plate discipline numbers, his swing rates are right in line with what you would expect from him but his contact rates are unusually high and his swinging strike rate is at a career low:
Digging deep on his other data doesn’t reveal any smoking guns other than a little bit of a shift in more ground balls for fly balls. But then there’s the old eyeball test:
Montero version 2013 had a relatively upright and fairly pronounced open stance and would dive into the ball, which perhaps he could get away with in 2012 when he was a 28 year old lad. But after a rather abysmal 2013 season, it appears he’s changed his stance fundamentally. He’s crouched in a more athletic position, less open, and one would venture to guess that the eye angle on the ball changes far less.
There’s using the same tools and getting different results and then there’s something like what we see in this newfangled batting stance. In this instance, I think it’s reasonable to ignore the rest-of-season predictors which suggest Montero will see his average drop into the .250 range with a strikeout rate back up around his career rate and a notable drop off in power. There’s not much that screams fluke here, and should Montero continue to stay healthy, it’s reasonable to expect him to flirt with 20 home runs, drive in 80+ while hitting .280 or better. That’s a pretty valuable catcher, and it might be time to start kicking the tires on an owner seeking to sell high on him as the asking price is still probably subdued by his performance last season.
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