Let me start by saying that I am a fan of Miguel Montero. I am. I love that the guy never wants to sit. I love that he led all catchers in innings caught in 2012 and is on pace for similar results in 2013. I also love that opposing teams respect Montero and his cannon of an arm enough to hardly attempt to steal on the 29 year old. That’s a great asset to have on your club. It’s an asset that I expect to be with the D’backs for the next five or six years.
Now the hard part. Right now, Montero stinks. I’m sorry I had to say it but he really does right now. There are certainly multiple things that are contributing to these struggles and at this point I’m sure it is as much mental as anything else. Montero is too good of a hitter to be sitting under the Mendoza line nearly two months into the season. But, in my opinion, right now I’m not sure he is actually helping us to be in the lineup.
Through 47 games and 167 at bats, Montero has amassed just 32 hits- good for a paltry .192 average. He has 41 strikeouts trying to offset just eight extra base hits- five doubles and three home runs- giving him a slugging percentage that rivals Cliff Pennington at .275.
He has gone hitless in 20 of those games and only recorded five multi-hit games, none of which included more than two hits. I’d like to think he is starting to find his stroke as he has hit safely in six of his last seven games but his average will likely still finish below his April total barring a 4-4 night tomorrow. And this is splitting hairs here as neither will put him above .190.
So what do we do? Can we really bench our franchise catcher that the organization just dished out $66 million for? No, we certainly can’t. But what we can do is use him less. Perhaps more like Gibson used Willie Bloomquist during the 2012 season. Typically Bloomquist would be deployed in the field two games each series with John McDonald or [Stephen Drew for a short while] playing the other game. And while I was constantly questioning Gibby for not playing Bloomquist everyday since it seemed like he would get two hits each night, the system was working and he hit .300 before making an early exit with a back injury.
Wil Nieves, Montero’s backup, has been pretty reliable this season in his [very] limited role. Through 34 at bats he has collected 12 hits, good for a .353 average. He has an on base percentage of .395 and is 6 for his last 13. In 2012 with the D’backs, Nieves was just as good finishing with a .301/.330/.410 slash line through 83 at bats. Sure, Nieves only has two extra base hits this season but at least he’s getting on base.
Defensively I wouldn’t even begin to try to convince you that Nieves is as good as Montero. However, Montero has only been able to throw out 2 of 14 (14%) of his runners this season. For perspective, in 2012 there were only 12 successful stolen bases on him all season.
Worth mentioning in Montero’s favor is that he seems to be incredibly unlucky this season as his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is nearly 80 points below the league average at .222. In comparison, he hasn’t finished with a BABIP below .317 over his last six seasons.
Still, with the numbers that Montero is putting up currently, can the team afford to keep sending him out there each night? He’s hitting .090 with runners in scoring position (3 for 33) but has collected 11 of his RBI’s and walked 11 times in those situations. We all are hoping he can come up with that big hit to come out of this funk, but he just hasn’t.
I understand that you have to let your guy work through the low points to get back to where they should be- Gibson stuck by Goldschmidt at the start of last season and the young prospect never looked back. Montero is sure to find his stroke but I’m not so sure the club needs to send him out there day after day to watch him struggle. Allow Nieves to fill in now as needed while they’re both healthy. Allow Montero to relax some at the plate to remember that he doesn’t have to swing 200mph at every pitch to get a base hit. The club needs their $10 million a year catcher to perform at the level they expect him to and perhaps a little time on the pine would do our guy some good.
If you’re looking for a silver lining here- and I am- through May 30th last year Montero was hitting .252 with just two home runs, seven doubles and 21 RBI’s. June 2012? How about six home runs, 22 RBI’s and a .329 average.
There’s certainly still time for Montero to find his stroke and the organization as well as the fans should be patient during the trying time but we still don’t need to force feed it when we’ve got a back up that can step in and play solid ball.
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