Jesus Montero as a Seattle Mariner has not gone well so far. He isn’t hitting like the scouting reports said he would, and is a serious liability on the bases and in the field.
On Sunday, after a bloop hit (BABIP hasn’t been a problem at .288 going into Sunday’s game) and advancing to 2nd on a Justin Smoak walk, it looked like he would score easily on a hit by Carlos Peguero. Even with a weak throw, Montero was called out on a close play at home. On replay it looked like he was safe, however, it appears that virtually any other runner in professional baseball beats that play rather easily. Everyone who has watched Mariners games this year knows how slow Montero is. Only Paul Konerko has a lower speed score than Montero this year out of players with “qualified” plate appearances. According to Fangraphs’ baserunning value, he is the 10th worst baserunner in baseball.
Behind the plate, it appears that all the scouting reports were right. In the 3rd, on a steal attempt , he threw the ball too far towards the right of Dustin Ackley and it bounced into the outfield. This is just one of many extremely bad throws this season by Mariners catchers (especially Montero and John Jaso). Later in the inning, on a tough bounced pitch by Iwakuma, Montero couldn’t block it, costing his team another base. He just isn’t very good behind the plate.
If he hits well, none of this matters that much. Since Michael Pineda is injured and getting DWIs, it doesn’t matter as much. One of these days, Montero may hit. There have been some flashes of some really awesome power by Montero, including on Sunday, when Montero destroyed a low 85 MPH fastball by Jered Weaver (that Weaver is effective as he is with that kind of velocity is amazing) for a homer. Perhaps depending on perspective, one could write a post about how his power is so good that it doesn’t matter that he is incredibly slow, and a bad defensive catcher. However, he has yet to show consistency at the plate. His 87 wRC+ puts him behind some other guys having disappointing seasons such as Carlos Pena, Eric Hosmer, Brian McCann and Kelly Johnson. Because of his lack of tools and other skills, he really has to hit. If he doesn’t hit and hit well, he isn’t a Major League caliber player. According to both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference’s WAR (along with Baseball Prospectus’ WARP), he is “below replacement” this season, meaning he is worse than a guy you should be able to call up from AAA (think a Luis Rodriquez or Guillermo Quiroz type. Andres Blanco is the guy I usually reference when talking about a “replcement player”). Of course, this doesn’t mean he will always be this bad. He is just 22 (will turn 23 in the off-season), the normal aging chart would have him steadily getting better. The question is by how much? He won’t get faster, but one could imagine him getting better defensively as he continues to learn the catcher position (or much more likely, learns to play 1st base adequately). He will hit better than he has this year, but the plate discipline was the big reason that I questioned his bat when the Mariners originally made the trade. This year, he is swinging at nearly 40% of pitches out of the zone. That is nearly 10% more than the average big leaguer (and owns one of the highest percentages in the league). Because of this, he is walking less than Darwin Barney and seeing breaking pitches and off-speed pitches much more often than the average Major Leaguer. Is this something that can improve? Perhaps (there are different belief on this), but it is a problem right now, as you can see with how much pitchers are throwing him low out of the zone:
His problems swinging at breaking balls low and in:
His problems missing those pitches:
However, the problem for Montero has not been overall strikeouts. His strikeout percentage (18.7%) is not bad at all (under league average). It has not been the quality of the balls he has put in play, his line drive rate is excellent and he hits less grounders and less balls in the infield than league average (although his success on those balls on the ground or in the infield are lower than league average. This could be just luck/randomness, or because of his lack of speed).
His splits are terrible and confusing. He can’t hit right-handers, he can’t hit at Safeco, but is a good hitter on the road and a good hitter against left-handers. He hits well when catching, and doesn’t hit very well at all when he is the DH. Are any of these numbers predictive for next year? I have no idea, but until Montero hits more consistently, he doesn’t have any value.