Some Sobering Data On Montero's Defense


After Jesus Montero‘s Spring Training debut behind the plate yesterday, many Yankees fans were cautiously optimistic about his defensive performance. Although he was not tested much, he did not seem as awkward back there as he has been advertised to be, and looked like he could handle the position at the Major League level. However, while most of us have watched plenty of baseball, few of us have scouting experience and therefore do not know exactly what to look for when evaluating a catcher’s defense. SG over at RLYW provided a link to a post from August, written by Kyle, which presented some sobering numbers regarding Montero’s defense:

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.

While some of this might be explained away using sample size caveats and other explanations, the fact that the statistics conform entirely to the negative scouting reports on Jesus’ defense suggests that they are at least somewhat accurate. This paints a very poor picture of his receiving skills, and again raises the issue of Montero’s bat dragging his glove to the majors before he is ready to defend in the big leagues. Jesus can certainly improve and may yet turn into a suitable major league catcher, but we should not let one seemingly solid Spring Training performance fool us into believing that he is already adequate behind the plate.

Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images, via daylife.com

24 thoughts on “Some Sobering Data On Montero's Defense

  1. While I agree it’s best to not get overwhelmingly excited about Montero’s D after two meaningless spring innings, I also don’t know how valuable a report from August is with regards to analyzing what Montero can do right now on defense. Ultimately we need to see more of him before jumping to any conclusions. That being said, the remainder of SG’s post on Montero’s offense is pretty damn fun to read.

    • Do you think another month of data would really change what we know about him defensively? While he may have gotten better over the offseason, I think you’d be hard pressed to call him MLB ready.

      • I mean he obviously needs more seasoning at catcher. I guess what I was trying to say is I’m interested to both watch him play and see a more updated scouting report on JM sometime in March before drawing any further conclusions on his D.

  2. Steve Karsay

    Looked poised behind the plate vs the Phillies to me.

  3. T.O Chris

    I don’t see how this is sobering… We all knew Montero was bad behind the plate and I could tell yesterday right away that by the way he has to crouch and compact behind the plate it will limit his ability to block balls in the dirt and prevent wild pitches/past balls, with that said he did look much better than I was thinking he was going to and that is encouraging.

    I’m not giving him the starting job because of it and no one else should either but he looked pretty good and if he is starting at this point I think he ca work himself into an acceptable level, he showed me enough at least to think he can be in the Jorge Posada range of defense and with a projected better bat.

    So while the numbers are interesting and it’s nice to have some numbers on the year from last season I just don’t think it’s something we didn’t already know/suspect and it doesn’t project the future.

    • It does suggest that he may be a lot worse at the margins than we would be able to perceive by watching a few Spring training innings.

      • T.O Chris

        In what ways? What specifically is he worse at than you thought? What do the numbers say that you didn’t already know?

        Because for me watching him yesterday it was clear that he hasn’t even started working on framing pitches (though he does know to hold a ball and present it to the ump), he has a lot of trouble setting up for the outside pitch often being very lazy with hand placement to the point of almost holding in the middle of the zone, he has very little mobility and room for error behind the plate because of how crouched and compact he gets and I would assume if he has all these things he is working on already that calling a game isn’t the highest on his list and therefore he probably isn’t very good at that either.

        If we look at how he achieves and not what he achieves a few innings and onward can show a lot of things.

        I just don’t believe you should come away from this thinking any more or less of him than you did after yesterday, he is bad a lot of little but important parts of the game and that makes sense since he is still learning the larger parts of being a catcher still, but calling a game, framing pitches, conversing with pitchers these are all thing Tony Pena and Girardi can help him with, being really big and having to make himself into a little ball to comfortabley sit behind the plate is just something he is going to have to learn to deal with.

        If at the end of ST he goes down I wouldn’t be dissapointed because a little more time starting can’t hurt but if they decide he has earned the backup job by the end of this how can you complain really, he has a bat and a lot of the little things can be passed on from daily work with the coaches. If he goes down to Scranton he’s back up for god by July.

        • Moshe Mandel

          You are a lot different than a lot of Yankees fans, who took yesterday to mean he was adequate. Im speaking to those fans. To guys like you, Im just preaching to the choir.

          • T.O Chris

            I see what you’re saying then…. My bad, I sometimes forget that a lot of causal fans tend to follow blogs.

            I will say for how low my expectations of Montero were behind the dish he did really impress, I was peparing the other day to watch a butcher who had a hard time staying crouched but he maintained a low position throughout. It does make me wonder about his health longterm at catcher specifically his knees and back.

  4. This is why you can only bring him north as a backup Catcher. You have to pick your spots with him. Guys with good control like CC or a soft tossing veteran like Garcia most likely won’t be affected no matter who’s behind the dish. But forget about Jesus ever catching AJ, and I’d stay away from a young guy like Nova as well. Hughes may also be a bad match, Jesus may have problems with him with that sharp curveball he throws.

    The stuff about pitcher’s ERA going up would need to studied further (to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples) but it doesn’t surprise me one bit. You don’t want a pitcher to be afraid to throw a nasty curve or splitter in the dirt with men on base. If they are, they either elevate the curve (hanger) or rely too much on the fastball and become too predictable. Either way, the hitter is benefited greatly.

    • T.O Chris

      Jesus has been catching Betances for a while now and Delling has a very sharp curve and talked highly of Montero behind the plate, I know they are friends and so you chalk it up as that but my point is that he has caught some very tight hard breaking curves. He seem to jump out well and catch a somewhat wild curve from Dellin the other day so I could see him catching Hughes from time to time, I agree with Burnett though, he’s not just wild but also a little scatter brained and he needs a calming veteran presence behind the dish.

  5. geek

    I take all with a grain of salt. For years many have been critical about Posada behind the plate but what trumped all was his bat in the line up. If Montero can be passable as a catcher and hit over 300 all should be thrilled. He reminds me of Carlton Fisk.

  6. At the end of the day, we all know that Jesus is one of the top prospects in baseball because of his bat, so of course his bat is going to drag him up to Majors before he’s ready to be a full time catcher. But wasn’t that the same situation with Jorge? He never lit the world on fire behind the plate and the Yankees did just fine with him, so do we really need to continue to go over how bad a defensive catcher Jesus is when his bat projects to be even better than Jorge’s?

    While it’s impossible to know for sure how he’ll pan out, I’ve read reports going back over a year that compare Montero’s bat to that of Miguel Cabrera and Manny Ramirez. Last time I checked, neither of them were even marginal players defensively at their positions.

    By all accounts, Jesus is working hard to improve his deficincies and he’ll be under the tutelage of Girardi and Pena once he gets to the show. That should help him improve as a catcher at least a little bit, and if he can come anywhere close to replicating what Manny and Miggy have done at the plate then I’m more than happy to live with sub-standard D from him.

    • Here’s the thing: if he’s really, really killing you on defense, in some ways that are imperceptible to the naked eye, he may actually have more value to the team as a DH or, down the road, at first base. I’m afraid to trust my scouting eye when it comes to a catcher, because there are tons of facets to the position that all need careful analysis.We may not be able to pick up on him costing an extra baserunner a game with his receiving, but if it happens regularly, that will cost them games.

      • Agreed. And I think if he is or does end up being that bad defensively, it will become more apparent the more he catches at the Major League level. But given the Yankees’ situation at first base and DH right now, he’s got nowhere else to go but behind the plate.

        And his value to the team as a catcher putting up monster numbers is more than it would be as a DH, so it’s at least worth giving him a shot to see what he can do, even if he isn’t a Gold Glover.

        • Agreed. I’d try him out, and if the results mirror the minor league results after 2 years or so, you need to move him. Im all for giving him an extended shot at playing catcher in the majors, don’t get me wrong.

  7. oldpep

    I think having anywhere near a Manny type bat far outweighs some extra passed balls and wild pitches. I also believe having Girardi and especially Pena coaching you on an almost daily basis will lead to an improvement behind the plate. I think people forget just how bad Posada was and even moreso Yogi.

    • It isnt just some extra passed balls and wild pitches, it is a lot more of both, plus pitchers actually pitching worse. That said, Im not saying he shouldnt get a chance, just that we shouldnt delude ourselves into thinking he’s turned into a solid catcher after a few good innings.

  8. rodg12

    “I don’t doubt that he has a poor arm”

    I can’t get over this comment. From everything I’ve ever read on Montero, this couldn’t be further from the truth. His arm strength is possibly his only plus defensively.

    • Marcus

      I agree. The issue with Montero is his ability to block pitches. Can’t wait to see him catch AJ.

  9. oldpep

    The real problem I have with putting so much import on a small sample size from last August is that it’s about what happened up to that point. The remarks from Girardi (and a few others) stress how much he’s improved ‘since last year’. Just today David Robertson said ‘“He looked good-he looked real good” when asked about Montero behind the plate, and that’s been echoed by everyone who’s spoken on the subject.
    My confidence is not just from a few ST innings. It’s from my belief in guys like JoeG not blowing smoke to the degree it would take to bridge the gap between what the article implies and what they’re saying. They’re not talking about 6 months ago. They’re talking about what they’re seeing now-how he does his work, whether or not his footwork is improving, and is he taking the time to learn the pitchers.
    The Yankees currently have Yogi, Tony Pena, Girardi, Posada, and Martin in camp. I don’t know about the last guy, but the rest of that group are all hard workers and say Jesus is as well. A lot of guys at all positions have come up with iron gloves and gotten a lot better. And Yogi and Po both know how to go from lousy to acceptable behind the plate.

    • I assign the scouting reports from outsiders plus the statistics a bit more value than the internal reports, but you raise a fair point. I’m not saying he can’t/hasn’t gotten any better, just that he has a long way to go to reach adequate and that it is unlikely that he made up most of that gap in one winter.

  10. oldpep

    I think my main beef is so many people saying what he can’t do. It’s really a constant throughout the sports blogoshpere (I finally used that word in a sentence!), the ‘realists’ telling us what can’t possibly be done (Rich Seubert being my all-time favorite). BTW I post here because there’s so much less of it, but I do read other blogs and I’ve seen a lot of folks voice the opinion that he’ll never even be passable. I think that makes me more sensitive to articles like this one.
    Considering Montero’s age and (lack of) experience, along with his work ethic and the skill of his teachers, I think it would be more surprising if he was unable to learn to be passable behind the plate, or if he didn’t make sudden leaps in skill. Mauer is 2″ taller and he’s a pretty good defender.

    • I think it is possible. I wouldn’t have advocated giving him 2 full seasons behind the dish at the MLB level otherwise.

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