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

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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. “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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.