Miguel Montero is now a Toronto Blue Jay. Will his stolen base struggles pursue him to Canada, or did the Jays make a smart move?
By now, we are all aware of the drama that went down in Chicago involving starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and catcher Miguel Montero. On Tuesday, June 27th, the Washington Nationals beat the Chicago Cubs by a score of 6-1. The Nats stole seven bases in just four innings against the battery of Arrieta-Montero, including four swipes by the now-injured Trea Turner. After the game, Montero threw Arrieta under the bus for doing nothing to halt the running game. Before noon on Wednesday, June 28th, the Cubs designated Montero for assignment.
After the fiasco, Montero hit the market and despite his differences in the Chicago clubhouse, he quickly found a suitor for his services. Less than a week later, on July 3rd the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Montero from the Cubs for cash considerations or a player to be named later.
There are several interesting tidbits in this situation about which you might be less aware. For instance, Montero has been historically terrible at catching runners this season. His caught stealing percentage (3%, or 1-of-32) would be the lowest for any Cubs catcher since 1969. The one runner he “caught” was Charlie Blackmon, who, to be fair, is a pretty fast guy. I say “caught” because Mike Montgomery picked him off in such a way as to credit Montero with a faux caught stealing. His “pop time” — the time it takes for a catcher to receive, transfer, throw, and reach second base — is the worst among catchers with 10 throws to second base. We are six years removed from Montero’s league-best CS% (40%) in 2011, and his arm is a shell of its former glory.
You also might not know that Montero was right regarding Arrieta. The Cubs righty is laboriously slow to the plate when pitching from the stretch, and the Nationals took advantage. Travis Sawchik at FanGraphs performed frame-by-frame analysis to record the time of Arrieta’s delivery in each of the seven steals. According to John Dewan of Baseball Info Solutions, a pitcher who is quick to the plate can deliver from the stretch in under 1.4 seconds (from the start of his motion to when the ball hits the catcher’s mitt). Arrieta averaged 1.60 seconds on those seven steals, which is a tick faster than his normal delivery time of 1.71 seconds.
Dewan once estimated that pitchers are about 65% responsible for controlling the running game. A quick glance at Arrieta’s history with past catchers seems to agree with Dewan’s analysis, partially exculpates Montero, and proves to us that steals have always been a thorn in the side of this Cy Young winner.
Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Theo Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations, cited the situation as “an example of being a bad teammate publicly,” which led him to cut Montero on Wednesday morning. It probably is, but I cannot quantify the impact of being a bad teammate. What I can talk about is what no one wants to mention: the defending champion, second-place Cubs just cut their best hitting catcher.
At the time of his designation for assignment, Montero was slashing .286/.366/.439, good for a wRC+ of 112. Starting catcher Wilson Contreras, for comparison, is at .254/.323/.452 (101 wRC+). To be fair, Contreras has the stronger sample thanks to more than twice as many number plate appearances (255) as Montero (112). However, as a left-handed hitter, Montero carries a valuable platoon advantage. He was not going to overtake Contreras, but he was a key cog on the Cubs’ roster. Heck, he was hitting fifth in the lineup on his last day in Chicago!
Now the Toronto Blue Jays have added this bat-first, left-handed hitting catcher — second only to Alex Avila of the Detroit Tigers in OPS among lefty or switch-hitting backstops. To call Montero “bat-first” might also be a misrepresentation; his arm may be awful, but according to StatCorner Montero has ranked among the top six in framing runs above average in each of the last three seasons. As in the case of Travis D’Arnaud, offense and framing go a long way to overcoming a weak arm.
There are three reasons why Montero and the Jays are perfect together. Firstly, before the acquisition, Toronto had only right-handed catchers — Russell Martin and Luke Maile — on their 40-man roster. Second, neither of those two right-handed catchers has been especially potent at the plate. Toronto is last in baseball in OPS from the catcher spot (.565), and the gap between them and the next-worst team (Washington at .621) is nearly as sizable as the gap between the first- and eighth-best teams. Thus, Montero not only fills a platoon need but also has the ability to plug an offensive black hole in the Blue Jay lineup.
The third reason, though, is more of a question, and one everyone will want to know: Can Montero throw out a runner or two now that he is north of the border? To answer this, I first examined the career caught stealing rates of Toronto’s starting staff.
|Pitcher Name||Stolen Bases Against||Caught Stealing Against||Caught Stealing %|
The numbers seem decent enough, and one can forgive the converted reliever Joe Biagini in his small sample. But let’s do this the Montero-Arrieta way. I analyzed, timed, and averaged the delivery time — again, the time between when a pitcher begins his motion to the moment the baseball hits the catcher’s mitt — of each of the five starting pitchers with a runner on first base. I took several samples of video highlights and looked for both fastballs and off-speed pitches where I could. Arrieta clocked in at 1.60 seconds last week. How do the Blue Jays compare?
|Pitcher Name||Delivery Time (seconds)|
Stroman and Estrada are certainly quicker to the plate when compared to Arrieta. Liriano and Happ may seem slow, but as southpaws they have an advantage when holding runners at first base. Biagini is the worst of the bunch, but he is more or less a rotation fill-in for the injured Aaron Sanchez. All in all, this is a staff that is a few ticks faster to the plate than Arrieta, with an average of 1.47 seconds of delivery time. Baserunners will still take advantage of Montero’s weak arm, but he should not get exposed as much as he did last week with Chicago.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Montero’s departure was and is not bad news for the Cubs. Wilson Contreras will continue to hold down the starting gig, and the new backup in Chicago is Victor Caratini, a 23-year-old switch-hitter who had a .343 batting average in Triple-A at the time of his promotion. Maybe that unquantifiable clubhouse chemistry will improve with Montero gone. Maybe Chicago ekes out a few close wins down the stretch thanks to some quashed rallies courtesy of a caught stealing. Maybe this latest Epstein maneuver is the catalyst that pushes the Cubs to a second-half surge.
As for the last-place Blue Jays, having a player like Miguel Montero fall into their lap could also be a boon. His hitting from the left side compliments and adds to their lineup, his history of fantastic framing can keep his defense on the positive side, and his weak arm woes are mitigated by a staff that does a decent job at controlling the running game. Toronto is only five games behind the second wild card spot, and this low-risk acquisition could be a deciding factor if the Jays are to rally after the All-Star break.
Edited by Joe Sparacio.
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