Jesus Montero Infield Single Analysis
On Tuesday, Michael Morse clobbered a dinger over the batter’s eye in center field in Peoria. Wow! That is a heck of a dinger! Observers can’t recall the last time they saw someone achieve the same feat, and for Morse that’s an impressive accomplishment, but, we knew Michael Morse is strong. That’s kind of his whole “thing”. He strikes out, he hits dingers, he fields better than you probably could, and he displaces a lot of water from a drawn bath. There’s no reason to believe Morse is suddenly more strong than he used to be. He’s Michael Morse, with all the understood strengths and weaknesses.
But just the other day, Jesus Montero legged out an infield single. Wow! That is a heck of an infield single! Unlike with Morse’s strength, there is reason to believe Jesus Montero is suddenly faster than he used to be. He spent a lot of his offseason “learning how to run” — not my words — and he was coached in agility and form. This is because, previously, there was no agility or form. There was the complete absence of both. The Mariners told Montero to try to improve, so Montero tried to improve, and now he has an infield single to his name. Not long ago, he hit a legitimate triple in a spring-training game that didn’t count.
There’s a question, then: is Jesus Montero actually faster? We can’t, for now, address this question conclusively, but we can address it, with the help of Ryan Divish and his uploaded video. Without that video, this post wouldn’t exist. Or, without that video, this post wouldn’t exist as it is. These sentences certainly wouldn’t be included.
For the sake of background, we have to acknowledge that Jesus Montero has come through with infield singles before. According to FanGraphs, last year Montero had eight of them. According to Baseball-Reference, last year Montero had 11 of them. I don’t know which number is right, or more right, but the important thing is that the number isn’t zero. This was not Montero’s first-ever infield single.
So now we trust a principle: a batter who legs out an infield single will have been running about as fast as he can. When a batter hits a baseball and senses that he might be able to beat the throw to first, he sprints down the line. For me, it passes the smell test, and an additional benefit is that we don’t need much of a sample size if we’re going to time a guy’s running speed. We need hundreds of plate appearances before we understand a guy’s hitting. We don’t need many examples of his sprinting, because sprinting is sprinting and a guy will sprint at or around his true talent, provided he doesn’t stumble or isn’t sick.
So for a reference, I looked at three Jesus Montero infield singles from 2012. I’ll link to the .gifs:
I looked at Montero from the time his bat made contact with the ball to the time his foot made contact with the base. For one of those .gifs, we’re talking about 137 frames, or 4.57 seconds. For another of those .gifs, we’re talking about 139 frames, or 4.63 seconds. And for the last of those .gifs, we’re talking about 141 frames, or 4.70 seconds. They’re all in the same ballpark, and we get an average of 4.63 seconds to first.
Now for Montero’s most recent infield single, in March 2013. Here’s a link to the .gif. The camera is shooting from a different perspective, but it seems to me we’re talking about 137 frames, or 4.57 seconds. So pretty much the same. You could point to the slight difference between this number and the average of the three above, but note that, for this infield single, it looks like Montero was leaning a little toward first when he swung and made contact. That might’ve put him in position to get a better start, shaving some time off due to reasons I wouldn’t consider positive. Or you could say, all right, Jesus Montero has improved his time to first by one-fifteenth of one second.
If Jesus Montero is faster, that wasn’t made abundantly clear by his recent infield single. I’m not saying it isn’t true, but Montero himself has said he’s still slow, and he mostly just has better form. According to the Fan Scouting Report, last year Montero was judged to be one of the very slowest runners in baseball. So he presumably remains. But he’ll look a little better as he steps around the dirt, and I’d settle for Montero just not being embarrassing anymore. Better to be inconspicuously slow than very conspicuously slow. I can’t believe I’m writing again about Jesus Montero’s footspeed. In my defense, it’s less aggravating than writing about Jesus Montero’s batting approach.
Jesus Montero spent a lot of the offseason learning how to run. Based on preliminary data, he isn’t now markedly faster. He’s an old pair of roller skates with a new painted stripe on the side. It’s not that Montero won’t derive benefits from his offseason labor. It’s that the benefits won’t really help him in a lion attack.