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Entries in Robinson Cano (22)


Jesus Montero Hacking His Way Back to Triple-A

Few trades in recent memory have been as sexy -- and subsequently disappointing -- as the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda deal consummated by the Yankees and Mariners in January of 2012. Back then, it looked like an old-fashioned challenge trade of potential franchise cornerstones -- your hitting prodigy for my fireballing ace. Instead, Pineda has yet to throw a single pitch in the majors for New York, missing the entire 2012 season following labrum surgery and trying to regain his stuff in the minors late in 2013. Montero, meanwhile, has played like a minor league lifer (career 0.3 Wins Above Replacement) and is buried on the Mariners' 2014 first base/DH depth chart behind the likes of Corey Hart, Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak. The 6-foot-3, 230 pound Montero's squatting days are already over, due to a mix of injuries (a torn meniscus in his left knee in 2013), downright Doumitian glove work, and the arrival of well-rounded top prospect Mike Zunino.

It's hardly a shock that Montero, who also served a 50-game PED suspension last year, is no longer catching. His work behind home plate has long been panned, and even his most ardent supporters were only hoping that he could fake it in a Mike Piazza kind of way. Montero can't, as his career caught stealing rate (14 percent) is barely half that of the league average (26 percent), and his called strike rate on pitches thrown in the strike zone (76 percent) is the lowest among all backstops over the past three years, save for Ryan Doumit

Montero's predictable slide down the defensive spectrum wouldn't be so bad if he had developed into the devastating hitter that scouts had long prophesized. But that hasn't happened: in 732 major league plate appearances, he has a park-and-league-adjusted on-base-plus-slugging percentage that's three percent below average. Ditching his catcher's mask raised the bar on Montero's bat -- as a DH/first base type, he has to swat homers and get on base to be worth a roster spot. It's hard to say who the 24-year-old is at this point. He's not a catcher, and he's not a slugger. Which is why he'll almost assuredly be a Tacoma Rainer in 2014, assuming GM Jack Zduriencik doesn't sell low on the former top-five prospect.

The hulking righty hitter has already proven that he can mash fastballs at the highest level. But if Montero is to escape Triple-A purgatory and eventually join Robinson Cano in the middle of the M's lineup, he'll have to start laying off curveballs, sliders and changeups thrown off the plate. The stud once likened to Piazza and Miguel Cabrera is now drawing parallels to young hitters undone by their hacking like Jeff Francoeur and Delmon Young.

Against fastballs, Montero looks like a seasoned pro. While he chases heaters slightly more often (28.7 percent) than the average hitter (25.4 percent), he's also slugging .514 (about 80 points above the MLB average). Fourteen of Montero's 22 career homers have come off fastballs. When pitchers challenge him, Montero makes them pay with decent plate patience and serious power.

They rarely challenge him, though, as Montero has seen the fifth-lowest percentage of fastballs (42.2 percent) among AL hitters logging 500-plus plate appearances from 2011-13. There's a good reason for that approach -- Montero gets himself out against breaking and off-speed stuff by chasing pitches off the edges and in the dirt.

Montero's swing rate by pitch location versus breaking and off-speed pitches, 2011-13

MLB average swing rate by pitch location versus breaking and off-speed pitches, 2011-13

Montero has chased 42.2 percent of curves, sliders and changeups thrown outside of the strike zone, way above the 31.7 percent MLB average. That puts Seattle's hoped-for cleanup hitter in the same neighborhood as Francoeur (44.1 percent) and Young (44.8 percent), among other bad-ball swingers.

It's no secret that plate judgment is paramount for batters, but the difference between swinging at a ball and a strike is, well, striking. When hitters swing at a breaking or off-speed pitch thrown out of the zone, they slug .187. When they swing at a strike, they slug .474. Chase a curve, slider or changeup off the plate, and you hit like a pitcher. Swing at a strike, and you're suddenly Pedro Alvarez

Montero isn't a lost cause, but his plate approach needs a serious overhaul if he's going to rake in the majors. Currently, pitchers can toss soft stuff galore and watch with glee as he buries himself in the count or makes weak contact. There's no reason to let him pull a fastball into the bleachers when he's so eager to lunge at unhittable junk. Montero could still become a Paul Konerko-esque slugger, overcoming a rough big league introduction and crushing enough pitches to make a difference at a bat-only position. Short of learning to lay off soft stuff, though, Montero will join free-swingers like Francoeur and Young in top prospect infamy.


Can Brandon Phillips Stand the Heat?

Brandon Phillips is reportedly on the trading block, with the Reds second baseman being mentioned as a possible replacement for the Yankees should free agent Robinson Cano cash in elsewhere. Phillips is coming off a 2013 campaign in which he drove in a career-high 103 runs, ranking second to Cano among all players at the keystone spot and trailing only Joe Morgan (111 RBI in 1976) on the single-season list for a Reds second baseman.

That's where the comparisons to Cano and Morgan stop, though. Batting behind on-base machines Shin-Shoo-Choo and Joey Votto, Phillips tallied all of those ribbies despite posting a park-and-league adjusted OPS that was eight percent below average (92 OPS+). In fact, Phillips OPS+ last year was his worst since his first season in Cincinnati (88 OPS+ in 2006) and by far the lowest ever for a second baseman driving in 100 runs (Jeff Kent's 1997 season is second, at a comparatively robust 105 OPS+).

Phillips, owed $50 million over the next four years, remains a slick fielder. But any club thinking about trading for him has to consider whether he can reverse a three-year decline at the plate that has seen his adjusted OPS dip from excellent (118 OPS+ in 2011) to average (99 OPS+) to subpar. To do that, the 32-year-old will have to start turning on fastballs once again.

Check out Phillips' slugging percentage against the heat over the past three seasons:

Phillips' slugging percentage vs. fastballs by pitch location, 2011

Phillips' slugging percentage vs. fastballs by pitch location, 2012

Phillips' slugging percentage vs. fastballs by pitch location, 2013

Phillips slugged .528 versus fastballs in 2011, topping the major league average by nearly 100 points. That figure dipped a bit in 2012 (.482) and then plummeted to .393 in 2013. You might think his power outage against the heat is the product of his hitting more ground balls, but Phillips actually hit more fly balls and line drives in 2013 than in the previous few seasons. It's just that the fastballs he lofted didn't travel as far: Phillips' fly balls and liners carried an average of 257 feet this past year, compared to 271 feet in 2011.

While Phillips might not be a terrible pick-up for club seeking airtight D at second base, he has Choo and Votto to thank for that RBI total more than his own offensive prowess. To truly make a difference at the plate, Phillips has to re-discover his power strike when pitchers bring the heat.


Under the hood: the first pitch of an at bat

There are pitchers counts and there are batters counts, but with batters overall hitting .254 at this point of the season, we can see as per usual at .336 that the first of pitch of an at bat is definitely a hitters count.

Batting averages by count

First Pitch 11929 11209 3762 504 .336
1-0 Count 7310 7088 2356 305 .332
2-0 Count 2729 2658 889 147 .334
3-0 Count 2208 168 59 16 .351
0-1 Count 9846 9481 2961 261 .312
1-1 Count 9387 9134 3023 306 .331
2-1 Count 5614 5508 1928 270 .350
3-1 Count 4767 2277 793 160 .348
0-2 Count 9371 9210 1404 96 .152
1-2 Count 15776 15539 2598 218 .167
2-2 Count 14868 14670 2652 270 .181
Full Count 13740 9696 2103 251 .217
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2013. 

First pitch hitting stars 

Nine to Know: First pitch pitching stars 

First pitch hitting stiffs 

First pitch pitching stiffs

First pitches - Team Stats


  • The Texas Rangers are hitting .393 on first pitches.
  • The Colorado Rockies are hitting .375 on first pitches.
  • The St. Louis Cardinals are hitting .371 on first pitches.
  • The Cincinnati Reds are hitting .296 on first pitches.
  • The San Diegoe Padres are hitting .301 on first pitches.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks are hitting .310 on first pitches.
  • Batters are hitting .273 against the Oakland A's on first pitches.
  • Batters are hitting .282 against the Kansas City Royals on first pitches.
  • Batters are hitting .291 against the LA Dodgers on first pitches.
  • Batters are hitting .393 against the Seattle Mariners on first pitches.
  • Batters are hitting .369 against the NY Mets on first pitches.
  • Batters are hitting .367 against the Milwaukee Brewers on first pitches.