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.