Rafael Montero and the Last Chance Saloon

This week on the podcast, when asked to make an unlikely prediction, Gotham Baseball’s Mark Healey said that Rafael Montero was going to be a useful pitcher. Sunday, Montero gets yet another chance to show his stuff. We can’t really call it his last chance, because at this point the only thing to garner more last chance appearances than Montero is that saloon in Kansas.

It’s one of life’s maddening things to contemplate how someone like Montero gets multiple chances while someone like old pal Darin Gorski couldn’t get a single one. The running joke is that Montero has incriminating photos of someone high up in the Mets’ organization. Hey, it makes as much sense as any other theory out there. So, why is it that they keep turning to him again and again?

Injuries are the biggest reason. There’s also the insistence on using a six-man rotation. Plus there’s the reality that this administration will choose a recycled veteran over an untested rookie whenever it has the chance. Usually the recycled vet will come from another organization but the Montero fetish proves that doesn’t have to be the case.

So, can we say anything positive about Montero before today’s start? Let’s give it a shot. This year, he’s had success on the mound when absolutely nothing is at stake. Baseball-Reference gives splits for three different leverage situations. Here are Montero’s triple-slash line splits in those:

High Leverage – .480/.563/.680
Medium Leverage – .524/.600/.571
Low Leverage – .206/.315/.286

He has 74 PA in Low Leverage situations and 18 of those have resulted in a strikeout. Opposing batters have a .273 BABIP against him in those appearances, compared to a mark over .500 in the other two categories.

As we saw with Antonio Bastardo, not everyone is cut out for high leverage situations. Hey, it’s not the end of the world to be useful in a mop-up role. Every team needs a last pitcher on the staff and goodness knows there’s been ample opportunity for Met pitchers to perform this year when the game was well out of hand.

Yet no one would classify a starting assignment as low leverage. Unless perhaps the Mets put up eight runs in the top of the first inning. But we’re trying to remain positive, despite the fact that the team is 1-4 when they had a chance for a three-game sweep this year. And they’re 4-7 on Sundays. So, what shreds can we cling to if we wish to be positive?

Well, Montero has a 3.68 road ERA, compared to a 7.58 ERA at home. And when Rene Rivera is behind the plate, opponents have a .752 OPS compared to a 1.006 ERA when Travis d’Arnaud is his catcher. However, both of those are tiny samples. Perhaps the most encouraging thing is that the Giants are one of the worst teams in the league, with a 27-50 record and they average just 3.79 runs per game, which ranks 14th in the 15-team National League.

Surprisingly, Montero has done a decent job this year of limiting the gopher ball, as he’s allowed just 2 HR in 26.2 IP. And he has a solid 48.1 GB% to go along with a 9.57 K/9. The issue is that while ground balls are usually a good thing for a pitcher, opposing batters have an .895 OPS when they hit the ball on the ground! If that doesn’t sound spectacularly awful to you, know that NL pitchers limit batters overall to a .503 OPS when they hit the ball on the ground. No one feels like Neil Ramirez is a particularly good pitcher and when opponents hit the ball on the ground against him, they have a .167 OPS.

Montero is actually better than league average when opponents hit fly balls or line drives.

Without going through and re-watching his appearances, it’s impossible to know how much the Mets’ poor infield play has contributed to Montero’s performance when batters hit the ball on the ground. Perhaps it’s not all that much. But one thing we do know is that as a team, Mets pitchers have the third-highest OPS against on grounders, with opponents having a .545 OPS. Only the Padres and Phillies are worse.

So, if the Mets want to improve Montero’s chances of pitching effectively, they need to put out the best defensive infield that they can.

10 comments for “Rafael Montero and the Last Chance Saloon

  1. Chris F
    June 25, 2017 at 11:11 am

    I was quite surprised at Mark’s comments on Montero. At the big league level, Montero just has nothing to offer, starter or reliever. Pitching in ultra low leverage situations (mop up lost games) or starting against the worst teams in baseball provides us little hope. Like you, I would rather see that spot offered to someone who may step up, whoever that may be.

    • June 25, 2017 at 12:40 pm

      Well, the premise is to make a surprising prediction…

  2. Eraff
    June 25, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Montero has pitched to some success at High Minors Level…he’s still just 26…tops at 94-95mph–he has talent. It’s a question of making some adjustments to his lack of success at the big league level, but he keeps coming back with the same old same old each and every time.

    • June 25, 2017 at 1:33 pm

      Everything you say is true.

      The question becomes: Who’s to blame? Is it the player for refusing to change? This seems the least likely to me. It doesn’t make sense that a player who’s had no success in the game is given shot after shot if he’s refusing to carry out the game plan. Then is it the catcher or the bench for calling the pitches? I wish I knew the answer. If it’s d’Arnaud who isn’t changing the game plan, that would be an extra reason to get rid of him. And the same thing applies to the pitching coach if he’s the one.

      • Jimmy P
        June 26, 2017 at 9:39 am

        The player.

  3. Reality Chuck
    June 25, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Currently, Montero’s WHIP is worse than Kevin Plawecki’s.

  4. Eraff
    June 25, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Willingness…Courage….Intelligence….. I don’t know that anyone has a “plug and play Fix” for him—it doesn’t work that way, but he’s responsible for listening and trying—it’s All on Him!

    I do know that he cannot continue to do the same things to find success—I wonder if He understands/acepts that, because it All Always looks the same!!!

    Maybe he just suffers from “I will not throw strikes to MLB Hitters”.

    When he hears “New Voices” (in a different place) it may Jar him to listen

    • June 25, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      My opinion is that you simply cannot accurately say what you did in the first graph. There’s no way for us to tell if he’s doing what they tell him because we have no clue what they are telling him to do. The best we can do is judge where he throws the ball compared to where the catcher sets up. And even then, we don’t know if misses are because he’s intentionally ignoring the game plan or if it’s just the simple fact that no pitcher can throw the ball exactly where the catcher puts his glove every single pitch. If the catcher calls for the ball low and away and Montero misses the strike zone but the pitch is low and/or away – he’s certainly not ignoring the game plan.

      He doesn’t have the stuff to throw the ball in the heart of the strike zone. He’s got to move the ball in and out, up and down. He’s got to work somewhere besides low and away on every single pitch. Let’s see how often the target is high and/or inside compared to the opposite.

      I’m just glad his start is coming against the Giants instead of the Dodgers. The way LA hit the ball in that series it could have been glorified batting practice.

  5. Eraff
    June 26, 2017 at 6:37 am

    I don’t have statistical validation, and I recognize that the opposition lineup was struggling…. Montero seemed to do several good things:
    -Early Strikes
    -great change up at a higher pitch speed–this may have improved his arm action and made the pitch less identifiable to hitters
    -more inside pitches…Fast Balls and Sliders(to LH)
    -More aggressive in “out counts”– he avoided “little league 2 strike waste pitches”
    -Changed elevation more often—with a 94-96 fastball

    He forced hitters to be responsible for more area in Pitcher’s Counts…well done.

  6. MattyMets
    June 26, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    Montero, like Gsellman, needs to keep the ball low to be effective. A fastball with movement at the knees or just below, particular on the corners, is a lot harder to square up than one belt high. When these two pitchers are up they get clobbered. You can get away with it a little more when you have a fastball like Syndergaard or deGrom.

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