Moving to Catcher Will Help Jesus Montero

Jesus Montero will be the Mariners starting catcher when pitchers and catcher report in less than one week. That’s actually somewhat surprising, as Montero’s only real weak spot as a prospect was his defense. Due to those concerns, the Mariners primarily used Montero as their designated hitter last season. They didn’t give up on him as a catcher, allowing him to play 53 games behind the plate. Though the M’s allowed Montero to work through his struggles at the major-league level, his performance was underwhelming. In 553 plate appearances, Montero hit just .260/.298/.386. Montero may not have lived up to his prospect billing last season, but he was just 22-years-old. Entering his age-23 season, there’s still plenty of hope for Montero. And by moving him the catcher full-time, the Mariners might be giving him a much better shot at an offensive break out.

Whether you choose to look at Montero as a catcher or a DH, his performance last year doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. When sorting for catchers or DH who received at least 400 plate appearances during their age-22 season, you get a list of 17 players since 1969. If you sort by either wOBA or wRC+, you’ll see that Montero did not turn in a promising performance. His 90 wRC+ ties him for 14 on that list, which isn’t good, but doesn’t necessarily lead to failure. The two players he finished ahead of, Butch Wynegar and Yadier Molina, both turned into useful players. Molina is currently one of the best catchers in the game, and Wynegar had four seasons with at least a 3.0 WAR following his age-22 season. The player Montero tied with, Billy Butler, has developed into a strong hitter. The fact that even the players who performed poorly rebounded probably tells you that in order to land a full-time role at age-22, you have to be a pretty talented player.

The performance of both Butler and Molina and Wynegar also shows that there would be some hope for Montero in either role. But the Mariners are set on employing him at catcher next year, and for good reason. Many players who DH typically see their numbers drop when they aren’t playing out in the field. While our sample size with Montero is laughable small at this point, he, too, has shown an ability to hit better when used as a catcher.

Name Position PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Jesus Montero C 230 5.7 16.5 0.310 0.343 0.498 0.360 135
Jesus Montero DH 320 4.7 18.8 0.227 0.266 0.310 0.249 59

*There was a notion within the comments that Montero’s C/DH split had to do with him primarily starting games against left-handed pitching, but this is not true. In games where Montero started at catcher, he faced 33 right-handed starting pitchers. He started at catcher against a left-handed starter in 21 games.

The difference is pretty drastic. While it’s not fair to assume Montero would have continued at the same pace had he remained solely at one position, you can see just how promising his 2012 could have looked had he been used as a full-time catcher. Going back to our initial list of players, Montero’s 135 wRC+ behind the plate would have ranked third, just behind Brian McCann, and ahead of Jim Rice, Ted Simmons, Earl Williams and Ivan Rodriguez. That’s some pretty great company. As a DH, his 59 mark would have ranked him last by a fair margin.

The only downside to employing Montero as a catcher, is that the Mariners will have to deal with his defense. That won’t be a concern in fantasy leagues, obviously, but, as Dave Cameron wrote when the M’s acquired him, Montero would have to be really awful defensively to really hurt the team. The value that he adds with his bat should outweigh the negative value he produces on defense, unless he’s just an abomination behind the plate.

While our small sample limits the conclusions we can make about his performance going forward, Montero does have a few factors in his favor. Very few players hop into full-times roles at catcher or DH as 22-year-olds, and the ones that do are typically really talented. We also know that being a DH tends to depress offensive performance, which Montero has shown in his very tiny sample. Montero’s bat will also extract far more value to the Mariners, and to fantasy teams, if he’s used as a catcher. Though it remains a highly debated strategy, the Mariners may be putting Montero in the best situation to succeed by allowing him to be their full-time catcher.

We hoped you liked reading Moving to Catcher Will Help Jesus Montero by Chris Cwik!

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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HenduforKutch
Guest
HenduforKutch

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but didn’t Montero get the majority of his starts at Catcher against lefties?

My recollection (and not being an M’s fan, it’s fuzzy) was that Jaso caught and Montero DH’ed against righties, and that against lefties Jaso was pulled and Montero caught.

If that’s the case, those numbers could have nothing to do with catching vs. DHing and everything to do with regular lefty/righty splits.

etrain
Member
etrain

This. Without a look at the splits (whether to refute or confirm this claim), this article carries little weight – and that is already of minimal value given the SSS.

jdbolick
Member

Montero’s LHP/RHP splits mirror the DH/C comparison above for the most part, so it looks like you’re correct.

HenduforKutch
Guest
HenduforKutch

Like I said, it’s going off a fuzzy recollection. Is there a way to parse his numbers into 4 categories: C vs. LHP, DH vs. LHP, C vs. RHP, and DH vs. RHP?

I see Chris saying it’s 33 starts vs RHP and 21 starts vs LHP as catcher, so it was only 39% of the time that he was facing lefties as Catcher. Can you find the same numbers as DH? While 39% obviously isn’t a ton, it could make a significant difference if that is in comparison to 8% of the time or some such number as a DH.

Not trying to be overly critical, I just feel like a piece of the data is still missing.

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.

I believe it’s 21/33 as catcher and 33/44 as DH, so the splits are evenly distributed.

Jeff Zimmerman
Member

Couple of points,

Here are his 2012 splits of splits:

as Catcher
vs. RHP: 0.282/0.317/0.504
vs. LHP: 0.346/0.379/0.444

as DH
vs. RHP 0.200/0.230/0.242
vs. LHP 0.265/0.315/0.402

He hit better against RHP as a catcher than against LHP as a DH.

Second, the previously noticeable DH drop in production is at work. Players historically have performed worse as a DH than at a regular position.

http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/skill_to_dh/

HenduforKutch
Guest
HenduforKutch

Thanks Jeff, that’s very handy info to have. Now, can you split those out to Home vs. Road in an 8-panel splits of splits of splits chart? Feel free to throw in day vs. night games if you’re feeling bored. 🙂