Montero’s Platoon Splits, Capps’ Call-up

marc w · July 28, 2012 at 12:33 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Jesus Montero’s struggled against right-handed pitching, except tonight. Also, the M’s now have their hardest-throwing relief prospect at AAA Tacoma – and it’s not Stephen Pryor.

1: This article at The Hardball Times got a lot of attention today, and with good reason. Jesus Montero’s struggles at the plate have been newsworthy given the expectations placed on him and given the high profile nature of his acquisition. Jesse Sakstrup points out that Montero has the 2nd lowest wOBA against right-handers in baseball, and argues that his problems lie in his inability to lay off breaking balls thrown by right-handed pitchers. As the M’s are counting on Jesus Montero to be an offensive cog in the near future, this argument merits some attention. Let’s examine it.

First of all, it’s worth pointing out right from the start that we’re dealing with very little data. Montero simply hasn’t had enough plate appearances to make any definitive statements, and adding in his minor league splits doesn’t add a whole lot of clarity. In 2011, Montero had similarly large platoon splits in AAA, putting up a .728 OPS against righties versus a 1.039 against lefties (as with every split in this post, “small sample size” warnings apply). But in 2010 in the same league, he was at .858 against righties and .903 against lefties. That looks positively normal. From the Sally League (A) to the Eastern League (AA), Montero hit *better* against righties than lefties. It may yet be true that an inability to hit righties will doom Jesus Montero’s chances to add value in Seattle, but we don’t have anywhere near enough evidence to conclude that at this point.

The second, and more specific, claim in the article is that Montero’s struggles against breaking balls from right-handed pitchers are a particular problem, and a possible cause for his overall platoon splits. The evidence for this are pitch-type whiff rates and swing rates – the former apparently coming from Joe Lefkowitz’ pitch fx site, and the latter coming from texasleaguers. Using these different data sources can be problematic, as each site differs in its definition of a whiff and the number of breaking balls Montero’s seen. Just to focus on texas leaguers, since that’s the source of the swing graphic, Montero’s whiff rate comes out at 21.9%, which is high, but not altogether different from Casper Wells’ 18.7% or Prince Fielder’s 20.7% (from lefties, obviously). The swing graphs for just about any hitter look ludicrous, as hitters misread the ball as a fastball and swing away, following the break to some bizarre locations. Take a look at Miguel Cabrera’s 2012 chart here. Here’s Mike Trout’s from this year – and not the point that’s just above the 2nd ‘P’ in ‘perspective’ – that’s a bad swing. The point here isn’t that Montero’s doing something right by being similar to these great hitters, it’s that swinging at low and away sliders like this is common to just about everyone. Adrian Beltre was not alone.

Does Montero swing at *more* low sliders than other right-handed batters? Thanks to Dan Brooks’ new tool, we can normalize for all right-handers and see where/if Montero’s abnormal. Here’s Montero’s chart for curves/sliders thrown by righties. What you see is that he’s above 100% in the low/away zones, which is good evidence that this is his problem. But what if we only look at whiffs? Now he’s essentially dead-on average, and once again I’ll remind you that the samples in each zone are absurdly small. I could point out that this chart implies he’s got more of a problem with away fastballs than sliders, but that’d be disingenuous. The overall point is that swing/whiff rates by pitch types are only meaningful to the degree that they’re measured against a baseline. Do Montero’s swing rates look anything like, say, Miguel Olivo’s against similar pitches? Well, no, they don’t.

None of this is to suggest that Montero has done average-y, to say nothing of ‘well,’ against breaking balls thrown by righties. He hasn’t. Tonight’s line-drive single off a Jeremy Guthrie slider notwithstanding, it’s been concerning to watch him struggle against righties this season. But the focus on whiffs on particular pitch-types misses the real story. Montero doesn’t have an absurd K rate, and he doesn’t appear to have a remarkable whiff rate on breaking balls. The story of Jesus Montero’s disappointing season in 2012 – and the Mariner hitters’ disappointing season in 2012 – isn’t about whiffs. The problems, or at least the variance from the population mean, occurs once Montero makes contact. The M’s are 10th in the league in swinging strikes, and 7th in K% (behind such losers as the Athletics, Pirates and Nationals). These numbers aren’t what’s driving the M’s worst-in-baseball wOBA. Pitch-type whiff rates aren’t going to help us understand how *that* wOBA follows from *those* whiff rates. Hit FX might, but we don’t have access to it. In the meantime, don’t worry so much about Jesus Montero’s whiffs – worry about how the M’s preaching of aggressiveness at the plate produces so little in the way of tangible results.

2: Carter Capps was called up to Tacoma today after putting up ridiculous numbers with AA Jackson – 50 innings pitched, 40 hits, 8 runs, 12 walks and 72 strikeouts. The right-hander the M’s drafted out of D2 Mount Olive College has routinely hit triple-digits on the radar, and uses an odd, side-arming delivery to hide the ball from hitters (which just seems unfair).

I’d expected the M’s to call him up once Stephen Pryor’s rehab assignment ended, but they’re getting a jump on things. That’s fine by me, as Capps has the ceiling to be a closer at the big league level. Jeff Sullivan hightlights just how different his delivery is from Pryor’s in his post on the call-up; I wonder if part of the timing here isn’t to get a look at what it does to hitters to face the side-winding Capps and his above average horizontal movement following/before the over-the-top Pryor with his abnormally low horizontal fastball movement. It may mean nothing, and given that set-up men and closers would very rarely face the same hitters, it’s probably a non-starter, but think of how tough that’s got to be for hitters – one guy throws 99 with an odd 3/4 delivery, making the ball sweep (very quickly) through the hitting zone, while the other throws 97 moving nearly straight down through the strike zone.

Capps will undoubtedly make his Rainiers debut in Tucson against the Padres; he didn’t pitch in tonight’s game in Tacoma, which concluded a homestand. I’ll try to get out and see him when they return, but it’s entirely possible he’ll make an appearance in Seattle in September. No, he’s not on the 40-man, but the M’s will make several changes between now and then, and if he pitches anywhere near as effectively in AAA as he did in AA, he’ll be in line for a 40-man spot. It’s not the same delivery as Danny Hultzen’s at all, but the release point’s similar enough that everyone’s going to be watching how Capps’ stellar command translates to AAA. Hultzen’s obviously stumbled a bit, but Capps is a very different pitcher in a different role, but it’s something to watch.


15 Responses to “Montero’s Platoon Splits, Capps’ Call-up”

  1. vetted_coach on July 28th, 2012 7:25 am

    I always enjoy these in-depth analyses because my own sabermetric fluency predates the latest tier of specialized equations concerning specific swing rates, batting zones, and defensive ranges. I don’t pretend to stay caught up with trends and the math. Most of the results I read concur with my own general observations. I’ve noticed since mid-May that Montero offers unsuccessfully at an extraordinary number of sliders, low and away – and with almost any ball-strike count it seems. Clearly, the degree to which he can adjust will make the difference. I’m still ambivalent whether it helps or hinders him to be platooned.

  2. vetted_coach on July 28th, 2012 7:42 am

    (…was not finished, my iPad platform notwithstanding)

    To continue,

    It occurs to me that we are sort of persuaded toward this kind of analysis, much of it regarding trends that concentrate on so many minor leaguers and un established prospects because the Mariner franchise is so disposed toward this kind of economy. While Angel fans can regale the addition of a Greinke and a Pujols, we are left to digest the minutiae of all these cheaper alternatives.

    Never do we keep a Jason Vargas or Doug Fister. It would cost too much not to take advantage of an arbo year or diminishing options. Then, we trade not for proven bench strength, but instead for rookie-wage minor leaguers. The Angels allow a payroll of nearly $160 million, ours remains below $80 million. But our revenues are healthy.

    Texas took Cliff Lee from us happily. At the time, they still had Mitch Moreland, Jarrod Alphabet, ,and Chris Davis. But we take Justin Smoak. Austerity always. Never mind the $30 dollar parking, $9 dollar beer, and $75 dollar box seats.

    Instead of enjoying base hits, winning streaks, and good old healthy contention, it’s always this never ending parade of complicated theoretical numbers concerning speculative, unheard of youngsters.

    I like the analysis. It’s interesting and entertaining. But how about some friggin winning baseball for a while?

  3. djw on July 28th, 2012 9:49 am

    Texas took Cliff Lee from us happily. At the time, they still had Mitch Moreland, Jarrod Alphabet, ,and Chris Davis. But we take Justin Smoak. Austerity always. Never mind the $30 dollar parking, $9 dollar beer, and $75 dollar box seats.

    I don’t understand this paragraph at all. Are you suggesting that we could have had a different prospect from Texas (who is better, but not obviously so at the time), but that would have been more expensive, so we didn’t do it? I don’t remember hearing it at the time. Do you have evidence for this? Also, the costs associated with attending the game are a product of market forces. If the team were better and more people were interested in attending, those costs would probably go up. I don’t see why that’s relevant one way or the other.

    Instead of enjoying base hits, winning streaks, and good old healthy contention, it’s always this never ending parade of complicated theoretical numbers concerning speculative, unheard of youngsters.

    There’s no trade-off between these things. We could have the best team in baseball and still have interesting, smart analysis of individual players. Again, I don’t understand why you put these two things together, and write as if there’s some kind of trade-off at work here, and no imaginable reason to think such a trade-off exists.

  4. marcus_andrews on July 28th, 2012 10:48 am

    Coach the argument about Smoak is utterly foolish. Smoak was BY FAR their best first base prospect. Davis had power but K’d way too much and Moreland looked like James Loney 2.0. You can argue that our cost cutting is hurting us, but that is completely the wrong argument to use.

  5. Westside guy on July 28th, 2012 11:38 am

    Thank you for the interesting read, Marc. Seems like you did some of the important background work the Hardball Times *should* have done.

  6. vetted_coach on July 28th, 2012 1:06 pm

    If Smoak was indeed by far their best prospect, why have Moreland and Davis succeeded while Smoak has been utterly futile? Obviously, he wasn’t by far their best prospect. Duh.

    I’m not arguing that interesting analysis and winning baseball are mutually exclusive. Give me a break. That’s a fairly obtuse response to my argument. I’m saying that we are reduced to considering only the first because our franchise is not committed financially to the second.

    You haven’t read that? No kidding. You think the Seattle front office is going to ‘fess up to the press regarding austerity and priorities? You want to read about it – try in between the lines.

    Why do we trade good pitchers on July 31 while other franchises look for them? Why do we sift through unproven prospects spring after spring instead of keeping the great players who have left? Griffey, Vizuel, Martinez, Rodriguez, Johnson. When does it end? You want empirical evidence? Too easy. All you need is common sense and an objective eye.

    Sure, the market dictates beer prices. No one is arguing that. But while I’m being gauged for drinks, parking, and decent seats, let the ball club meet the market value for a reasonable product on the field. This is a public trust. We approved a stadium. We deserve a team that hits. We pay. Now you pay.

  7. NorahW on July 28th, 2012 1:23 pm

    Vetted_coach, are you saying the M’s upper management chose Smoak and Beavan over Moreland, Davis & Saltalamacchia because they knew they wouldn’t do as well and wouldn’t have to be paid as much? Honestly, I don’t think they did that. Why would they have gotten Lee in the first place? I think they just screwed up and picked the wrong people.

  8. djw on July 28th, 2012 2:35 pm

    I echo Norah’s question.

    Two possibilities:

    1. The Mariners trade for Smoak because he’s widely held to be an outstanding power-hitting prospect.

    2. The Mariners trade for Smoak because they have secret knowledge that the consensus view of Smoak is incorrect, but they want a bad first baseman, because they might have to pay him less when he becomes eligible for arbitration in four years.

    If you believe (2) is more plausible than (1), I don’t really know what to say, except that I’m going to decline to solicit your views on the moon landing and what really happened on September 11, 2001.

  9. MrZDevotee on July 28th, 2012 3:11 pm

    Your dogged, progressively disdainful attempt to set all the people straight here at this sight is, at best, getting tiresome.

    “Try reading between the lines” you say. Really, that’s entirely the antithesis of what the site represents. This site is dedicated to studying factual data and trying to adequately assess what can be reasonably taken from them.

    And yet, that said, what you believe (and “feel” through astute observations and experience) and what goes on in the minds of the guys who run USSMariner are NOT contradictory theories… Honest. They’re different approaches, that’s all.

    You attempt to absorb and predict the emotions of the game and the players’ various talents, and find the right equation to combine them, in a way that will lead to better and more consistent play in the future, while USSMariner attempts to record and analyze what results already exist, and find meaning to what those results might tell us about certain players and their likelihood of success in certain scenarios.

    The two approaches REQUIRE different perspectives, and from those perspectives come different views of what transpires, and naturally, the two vantage points don’t see the same things.

    That doesn’t make one right and one wrong… That doesn’t make one way necessarily obsolete and the other way rude and inconsiderate of tradition. That makes them BOTH methods of assessment that hopefully come together in some manner to help knowledgeable people make better decisions.

    Your frustration is palpable, and I sympathize with it, but what once seemed like an attempt to add thoughtful insight into the conversations here now seems like an attempt to make sure a prickly sharp pen knife stays buried in the shin of the stat geeks– just to let them know you’re still here and not going away.

    Seems a shame, because you obviously have a mature understanding of the game, and useful knowledge to share.

  10. MrZDevotee on July 28th, 2012 3:12 pm

    Any thoughts on whether Capps coming up might be a precursor to Wilhelmsen being coveted by other teams? And having both Pryor and Capps in a position to join the Mariners when that happens?

  11. Jopa on July 28th, 2012 3:18 pm

    I certainly hope they don’t trade Wilhelmsen. Jack has done a great job building the new bullpen. With Wilhelmsen, Pryor, Capps, Kelley, Ruffin, Luetge and Delebar they’ve got the makings of the best ‘pen in baseball. Two recent draft picks, a former bartender, a former high school teacher, a trade, a Rule 5 steal and one prior management holdover. Nice work by the GM.

  12. MrZDevotee on July 28th, 2012 5:29 pm

    Agreed… I was expressing a fear that “team out of contention” equals “team not needing a proven closer”… Which would add to the “this sucks” feeling hovering up by the ceiling, waiting to descend upon us.

  13. djw on July 28th, 2012 6:17 pm

    Jopa–Furbush too.

  14. stevemotivateir on July 29th, 2012 11:15 am


    The benefit of hindsight always makes good for a strong argument, eh?! Smoak was the number two prospect in the Rangers organization. The deal made perfect sense at the time. It actually looked like a killer deal for the Mariners. And let’s not forget we flipped Lueke for Jaso, who’s putting up the kind of numbers we expected from Smoak.

    If you still have doubts, you’re in luck, because articles and reports prior to the trade, are still available. Take a look at what Baseball America had to say about him. I’m sure your own analysis is better, and more accurate than theirs, but let’s pretend they might know a thing or two about baseball;)

  15. midlandtx on July 30th, 2012 1:18 am

    Repeated for emphasis:

    In the meantime, don’t worry so much about Jesus Montero’s whiffs – worry about how the M’s preaching of aggressiveness at the plate produces so little in the way of tangible results.

    The fact that Montero’s one of the leading hitters at around .260 suggests that the underachievement is plentiful, well dispersed, and systemic. At some point the coaching staff’s hacktastic approach must be called out and changed.

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