Last Thursday’s news that Miguel Montero will open the second half on the 15-day disabled list with a hand injury was certainly disappointing. While his OPS has dropped more than 100 points in the past month, he remains an above league-average hitter (.272 TAv and 104 OPS+), who provides power, an ability to draw a walk, and incredible production against sinkers. With Montero on the shelf for a few weeks, it seemed an opportune time to look at his first half as a it relates to the pitch on which he has practically made a career.
On June 13th, Monetro went to bed (we assume) ranking among the best hitting catchers in the National League. That night, in the team’s 4-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds, Montero had two hits, including a home run on a sinker from Mike Leake. His numbers were very good:
|April 5 – June 13||20.7%||17.3%||9||.252||.374||.463||.272|
At that point, Montero had appeared in 51 of the team’s 60 games. His OPS was .837, and from that point on it would begin a decline from which it has yet to return.
Montero’s excellent first two and a half months, while not a total shock, came after a two-season stretch in 2013-2014 in which he hit .237/.324/.358 with a 89 OPS+. In the soon-to-be released BP Wrigleyville Digital Magazine, I detailed how Montero’s return to form placed him among the top-five NL catchers in home runs, OPS, and ISO. As I wrote for the Digital Magazine:
So, what had led to Montero’s resurgence in 2015? He has raised his OPS against right-handed pitchers and he is being more selective, swinging at the fewest pitches of his career. Perhaps most interesting, though, is Montero’s remarkable production against sinkers.
In every season of his career, including 2015, Montero has seen sinkers second most of any pitch (between 17.9 percent and 23.7 percent of pitches each season). This season, after two years hitting sinkers below his career averages, he returned to hammering the pitch at the astounding rates he did during his best seasons in Arizona.
In 2013-2014, Montero posted a .682 OPS with a strikeout rate (20.0 percent) double his walk rate (10.3 percent). As you can see below, Montero struggled mightily with sinkers, the pitch he saw with the second greatest frequency:
In 2015, though, through June 13, Montero was again destroying sinkers, a pitch he was seeing nearly a quarter of the time:
|April 5 – June 13||22.0%||4.5%||15.9%||4||.460||.838||.419|
While the BABIP appears unsustainably high, it was in line with season-long BABIPs against sinkers in several seasons of his career. Entering 2015, he owned a career .373 BABIP against sinkers. From 2009-2012, as I noted in the Digital Magazine, Montero was absolutely unbelieveable against sinkers:
Those four seasons just happened to be the best seasons of his career, as he posted an .817 OPS and 116 OPS+, while averaging 43 extra-base hits a year.
Through mid-June, Montero picked up in 2015 where he had left off in 2012. However, starting June 14th, when Montero struckout pinch-hitting for David Ross in the Cubs’ 2-1 extra-innings win over the Reds, he has been in a prolonged slump:
|June 14- July 12||35.5%||7.9%||1||.186||.250||.243||.286|
Not surprisingly, Montero’s production against sinkers has plummeted along with his overall production:
Of course, Montero’s month-long slump is not tied entirely to his production against sinkers, as he has struggled against every pitch except four-seam fastballs:
When we return to looking at Montero’s numbers against sinkers, though, we find that his peripherals from pre and post mid-June have remained remarkably similar:
|Whiff%||BIP%||Line Drive%||Fly Ball%|
|April 5-June 13||6.02%||21.69%||9.04%||4.22%|
He is still putting sinkers in play, while not swinging and missing at a significantly higher percentage. Additionally, Montero’s BABIP against sinkers since mid-June is .170 points lower than his BABIP through the first two and a half months, and about .125 points below his career average. Does this suggest a second-half surge, if he gets healthy?
While it has never been the pitch he sees with the most frequency, Montero’s overall production seems tied to his production against sinkers. His career track record, and steady numbers in terms of sinkers put in play and hit hard, suggest a possible rebound.
Lead photo courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports