Catchers Changing Courses: Wilin Rosario, Miguel Montero?

Coming into this season, some fantasy baseball players felt that one of these backstops was an elite option and the other a strong rebound candidate. One disappointed, while the other didn’t. But in the last month or so, each has flipped the script, prompting questions about what lies ahead.

Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies

The hitherto 2014 disappointment has slashed .528/.541/.833 in 37 plate appearances in September, all since his return from the disabled list for inflammation in his right wrist. He’s likely dealt with pain in that joint since the beginning of the season, when he suffered a strain in the area and didn’t miss more than a couple of days. This has the makings of a SSS issue, but the time spent down may have revived him. The hot spell has spiked his full-season line to .275/.312/.441 in 394 PAs – surely a level that seemed likely to be out of reach for him just a few weeks ago.

What’s interesting is that Rosario, 25, has struck out in only 9.9% of his PAs since the All-Star break. His swinging-strike rate was 13.1% in the first half and has been at 10.8% in the second half. The swing-and-miss in his approach (21.9% career strikeout rate) had put his batting average at serious risk, even prior to this season, it had seemed.

The rest of the plate discipline numbers suggest that Rosario isn’t doing anything differently, though. His reach rate is about the same. He’s been slightly more aggressive. He’s made contact on pitches outside the zone a tad less often and vice versa. Basically, it seems that he’s swung at the right pitches in the second half. His dip in strikeout (to 16.8%) and swinging-strike rates (12.3%) this season are going to appear encouraging to someone next year who’s hoping to buy him on the rebound. The rest of the data suggests that much hasn’t changed.

OK, so Rosario probably isn’t really evolving as a hitter. I’d be bullish on him going into next season, anyway, because he’s probably confirmed what his healthy version is capable of producing. The potential problem is that such a strong finish to his season may have others thinking the same way, and on top of that, those who think so may also find added meaning in his supposed steps up in plate discipline. There may be a little something there, but nothing on which to bank given that he remains ever so aggressive in every other aspect. It could also be a byproduct of prior results suggesting to opponents that he was a less fearsome hitter before all this came about.

Rosario’s awesome power and run environment keep me hanging on, I admit. This September surge prompts me to think that widespread perception may cause fantasy owners to be much more forgiving in the long run than they should be, though. He’s still capable of monstrous seasons offensively, but the Rockies probably have to consider moving him from behind the plate in the next year or two. That’s a bonus in the transition year, when it happens, and there’s still one more potentially great season from him while he has catcher eligibility, but he may eventually be like Mike Napoli, without the willingness to draw free passes.

Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks

If it weren’t for the Baltimore Orioles’ Caleb Joseph, Montero would be the least productive backstop in the league this month, cumulatively. He hit .262/.344/.416 with 11 home runs in 352 plate appearances before the All-Star break, leading many of his fantasy owners to believe that he’d rediscovered the stroke that had apparently escaped him in 2013. Since the Midsummer Classic, he’s slashed .216/.313/.304 with two home runs in 195 PAs, however.

Montero, 31, has actually struck out less often and walked more often in this half than he did in the first. What has accounted for the 66-point dip in ISO and drop in wRC+ from 107 to 67 probably has a good bit to do with the rise in his reach rate (27.8% to 33.1%). Incremental changes in his swinging-strike percentage, O-contact%, and zone rate suggest opposing pitchers have realized that they don’t have to give him good pitches to hit in order to coax swings and weak contact from him. He’s in the top 40 among qualifiers in swing percentage, having taken the bat off his shoulder once for every two pitches he sees.

At least Montero remains an asset defensively, for the sake of his playing time. That might be part of the problem, though: In the last four years, among catchers, he’s second in plate appearances (2,148) behind Carlos Santana (2,550), who hasn’t caught in more than 100 games in any of the past four seasons and has played the position only 11 times this year. Third on the list: 32-year-old Yadier Molina, on whose offensive game we’ve seen the toll taken. He in fact spent a couple of seasons prior to that span in which he had the pedal to the metal.

The enemy will continue to exploit Montero’s subpar plate discipline. His 2013 campaign looks a lot less like an outlier and a lot more like the norm going forward, despite previous assertions to the contrary.

Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.

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9 years ago

Catchers make for risky picks simply of how easy it is for them to get hurt, plus the wear and tear they take. You never know when that catcher will fall of a cliff.

It is really sad to see Mauer waste his last year as C eligible.