Player Profile: Miguel Montero

Arizona Diamondbacks vs Colorado Rockies in DenverMiguel Montero has been a pleasant surprise this season, posting a .292/.346/.487 line thus far in 2009 while seizing the Arizona Diamondbacks’ starting catcher’s job. Despite his success this season, there are conflicting opinions on who Miguel Montero really is.

If you have a long memory, which many fantasy owners do, you’d remember “Miguel Montero” from 2007 and 2008′ especially the ’07 version.

Coming into 2009, Montero had two lackluster seasons under his belt, with a .224/.292/.397 line in 2007 and .255/.330/.435 in 2008. While 2007 was horrendous, 2008 was good enough to inject some life into Montero’s career. With the offensive abyss that is the MLB catcher, a .765 OPS is pretty good for a major league regular, albeit not good enough for a fantasy one.

There was more than meets the eye in his 2008 season, however. At first glance, his 26.6 strikeout percentage was serious cause for concern. Any hitter who strikes out in a quarter of his at-bats, yet doesn’t hit for lots of power, will post sub-par batting averages. With a 22.2 line drive percentage, 26.6 K%, and .323 BABIP, his .255 batting average seemed about what to expect from him. However, a deeper look at his contact and swing rates suggest that Montero may have been a bit unlucky with his K’s.

In 2008, Montero had a 79 percent contact rate, with a 50.9 swing percentage. Neither figure is ideal for a hitter, as you’d prefer a contact percentage in the 80s, as well as a little more selectivity. While a 50+ swing percentage is certainly high, it decreases the chances for strikeouts because the at-bat will end earlier. More swings equals more balls in play and a higher batting average.

Given his plate discipline stats, he should have had a strikeout rate close to 20 percent, as opposed to his poor rate of 26.6. With decreased strikeouts, his batting average should have been much better, possibly around .275 with an .810 OPS—a much better line than was actually posted.

The 2009 season has been more indicative of Montero’s abilities at the dish, as he holds a very good .292/.346/.833 line with 12 HR in 337 plate appearances. But how much of this performance is “real”?

First off, the power is legitimate. Montero has shown good power for a couple years now, and could have a 20-HR season in his future. He has shown good power in the majors, with 27 homers in 805 plate appearances.

His minor league home run totals are very good as well. He slugged 11 in 449 plate appearances in 2004, 26 in 519 PA in 2005, and 17 in 491 PA in 2006. Make sure you put a discount on that 2005 home run total, however, as they were largely an effect of playing in Lancaster of the California League, a hitter’s haven.

imagePerhaps just as important as the power is his ability to hit to the opposite field. Shown above is Montero’s hit chart at Chase Field in Arizona, courtesy of mlb.com. Notice how he has numerous doubles to left and left-center, with deep flies mixed in. Also, notice all the singles to left. Great opposite field hitter.

The one criticism I have is that he needs to improve his overall skills pulling the ball. He has too many groundball outs between first and second. However, as evidenced by his power to the opposite field, if he can start pulling the ball with authority, he’ll be incredible.

His pull power is good as well, though it could be improved upon, as evidenced by his struggles against high and low inside pitches this season. Is it possible he figures it out and starts pulling the ball? Absolutely. But, there is no guarantee that this will happen, and Mark Teahen is the best example of this tendency.

Still, you should absolutely watch out for this trend next year in the event you have an opportunity to trade for him. If he starts lifting flies to right and cuts down on the grounders, he’ll eclipse 20 home runs, with a chance at 25. A .300 hitting catcher with 20-plus home runs? Sign me up.

Also contributing to Montero’s turnaround this season is his improved abilities against breaking pitches. While he was already good against sliders (1.37 wSL/C) in 2008, he has improved in 2009 (3.49 wSL/C).

More important has been his improvement against curveballs, which gave him fits last season, as his wCB/C have improved from -3.21 in 2008 to 0.01 in 2009. This is a very important improvement, as Montero is sure to see fewer fastballs for the rest of this season and next, as he has morphed from a below-average fastball hitter into an above-average one. He’ll see more breaking pitches and off-speed stuff in the future, which he will be more than ready to take care of.

While Montero has mashed righties this season at a .291/.350/.504 clip, with 12 home runs and 46 strikeouts in 254 at-bats, the verdict is still out for Montero against lefties. Montero has posted a respectable .296/.328/.407 line (not bad) against lefties, but with just one home run in 54 at-bats, with six strikeouts.

The strikeouts are a very important aspect of Montero’s outlook against southpaws. While he has had success in 2009, he struck out 10 times in 28 at-bats in 2008. Though Montero could very well have improved against lefties this season (and been better than he showed in 2008), the sample sizes are too small to make any meaningful determinations. One of the two seasons was the outlier, and the verdict is still out as to what his true abilities are against lefties.

In the end, however, it doesn’t affect him as much as it would if he were a non-catcher, as his weakness can be masked by the fact that he can sit and get his scheduled rest against left handers.

For Montero this season, what you see is what you get. While the batting average is the main surprise this year, if he can maintain the improved contact percentage and stays aggressive at the plate, the .290 average seems in line with his peripherals, with a slight chance for him to hit .300.

This season, Montero profiles as a league-average catcher in 12-team mixed leagues, with good power, batting average, and decent run and RBI totals. His only drawback is that he offers absolutely no speed. Few do at catcher, however, so this shouldn’t be too much of a drawback.

Montero is available in a large number of leagues, especially those that require just one catcher. Although he has been a big surprise this season, don’t be stunned when he keeps it up for the rest of this season and next. He could fly under the radar next year when other owners remember 2007 and 2008 and think ’09 is a fluke—good thing you’ll know better.

If you like taking catchers late in the back half of the draft, make sure to add Miguel Montero to your target list. This season should be the last he flies under the radar, and next year, if he performs as well as he has this year, the lid will be blown off. Get him on your team if he’s on free agency and don’t miss out next season. He’s a great fantasy catcher at a low price.

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Comments

  1. Rob McQuown said...

    In what I’m sure will be an unpopular position, I think this is a case of a guy’s game improving by swinging more.  It’s obviously a chicken-and-egg question, with confidence and swings, but he seems to be a much better player when he’s not waiting for walks.

  2. Paul Moehringer said...

    Historically catchers take the longest time to develop.

    Montero is still just 26 and could be on his way to a solid major league career, or this could just be a fluke year.

    He’s hitting around .320 since mid-June so this could be either a hot streak, or a player coming into his own.

    The odd thing is that his walk to strikeout ratio for that time period is horrible, but so is the entire Diamodback team.

    Their approach seems to mirror that of hitting coach Jack Howell during his career.  A power hitting third baseman who spent most of his career with the California Angels, and even managed to hit a broken bat home run at Yankee Stadium.  He was traded to San Diego during the ‘91 season, and spent the next 4 years in Japan following that year, but enough about Jack Howell’s career.

    Point is he seems to be teaching a grip it and rip it plate approach with mixed results.  Some like Mark Reynolds have flourished while others like Chris Young have tanked.

    Be interesting to see how long Howell lasts, but pretty much across the board with Arizona strikeouts are up, but so are homers.

    Now if they can just get some pitching to compliment Haren, and Webb they might actually be a good team.

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