Pop quiz, hotshot. What the world needs now is
A. Not another love song
B. Not another Rafael Montero post
C. Not another Montero appearance in Queens
However true B and C might be, we’re getting those. Injuries to Seth Lugo, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard leave the Mets scrounging for a starting pitcher. And with no one else in Las Vegas doing particularly well, the Mets turn to everyone’s favorite punching bag for Friday’s start.
In a somewhat telling graphic, MetsBlog has the upcoming starting pitchers for both teams for the next week. It lists Montero for the Mets tonight, then every other pitching matchup until Wednesday, when under the Mets, it has no name. Expectations are so low that he isn’t even expected to make a second start.
And who can blame them? When we last saw Montero, he was putting up a 9.45 ERA and a 3.600 WHIP. If you went to Vegas and tried to place a wager on Montero lasting six innings tonight, they would pat you on your head and tell you to keep your money and wager on something with better odds, like an individual number in roulette.
One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Essentially, that’s where we are with Montero tonight. The only slight sliver of hope is that at least they’re not using him as a reliever. Most failed starting pitchers gain something by moving to the pen. That can be extra velocity since they no longer have to pace themselves, or the elimination of their weakest pitch since a reliever can get by quite nicely with just two pitches in a one-inning stint.
But Montero has been the exception. He’s witnessed no increase in velocity when used as a reliever. And Montero’s issue hasn’t been the need to cut out a bad offering. Instead, he needs to make better pitches with what he has.
In parts of four seasons in the majors, Montero has 80 IP under his belt, which is not a big sample at all. But we can only work with what we have. Here are his splits in the majors based on role:
RP – 20.1 IP, 7.97 ERA, 2.508 WHIP
SP – 59.2 IP, 4.68 ERA, 1.559 WHIP
His numbers in the majors as a reliever are horrible. There’s no way to pretend that they’ve been anything other than that. You could likely assemble a list of all of the Mets pitchers in Double and Triple-A, close your eyes and point randomly at one and that pitcher would come up and not do any worse.
Meanwhile, his numbers in the majors as a starter are nothing to get excited about but are significantly better than what he’s done out of the pen. The samples we are looking at are so small that this is just as likely to be random as it is to be significant. But when you’re at the end of your rope and grasping for straws, looking for any reason in the world to be something other than mortified by the prospect of tonight’s start – it’s at least something.
And if it’s worth anything, he’s made two starts in the PCL – one in Sacramento and one in Las Vegas – and has a 1.74 ERA with 3 BB, 16 Ks and 1 HR in 10.1 IP.
In Montero’s last start in the majors, he allowed nine baserunners and six runs and couldn’t complete two innings. If you polled 100 Mets fans that would likely be the baseline expectation heading into tonight’s game. But he also made a start against the Marlins last August, pitched five scoreless innings and finished with a Game Score of 60, despite an unseemly six walks. Every Mets fan in the country would sign on the dotted line for a repeat of that performance tonight.
If we could, we’d add five miles to his fastball and give it movement. We’d give him a breaking ball with more bite. We’d give him a killer splitter. Any of those things would help. Unfortunately, all of those things are beyond anyone’s ability to magically bestow upon him. His repertoire is what it is and if there’s a key to turning him into a useful MLB pitcher, it lies beyond that.
It’s long been my belief that the Mets are hurting Montero by making him constantly pitch low and away. Everyone knows that he doesn’t have the stuff to survive throwing pitches middle-middle. But he needs to use the top half of the strike zone and he needs to pitch inside. Let’s look at the pitch charts of Montero and Jacob deGrom this year to lefty hitters, starting with the latter.
If you drew a circle in the middle of the strike zone, deGrom has thrown a bunch of pitches there. Montero cannot in any way, shape or form do that. If he did, the results would be like what Kevin Plawecki experienced in the eighth inning in Washington last Sunday. But deGrom has thrown as many pitches in the top half of the strike zone and above as he has in the bottom half of the zone and lower. And eyeballing it, about a quarter of his pitches have been on the inside quarter of the zone or further in.
Now let’s look at Montero’s chart:
He hasn’t thrown nearly as many pitches but the trend is pretty clear. He’s only thrown one pitch to an LHB all season that was outside of the strike zone high. And he’s only thrown two pitches that missed the strike zone simply because they were inside. The pattern to righties is nearly the same, although he’s missed high with a few more pitches. He’s faced more RHB than LHB this year and only one pitch to a righty missed the strike zone inside.
In case you’ve forgotten, Montero has a 9.45 ERA and a 3.600 WHIP utilizing this pattern.
Just to be clear, the majority of his pitches should be low and away. Pitchers have been getting hitters out low and away for well over 100 years. But he needs to keep hitters honest by busting a fastball inside and he needs to go up the ladder when he has two strikes on a batter. How many times have we seen him get ahead on a batter, only to end up issuing a walk because he’s trying to hit paint low and away and either not getting the call on a close pitch or missing badly out of the zone because he doesn’t want to miss over the heart of the plate?
There’s no guarantee that pitching inside more and utilizing pitches at the letters and above will result in a better performance. But for the sake of all things holy, what do the Mets have to lose by letting him try? What they’ve had him do so far has been a dismal failure.