What Went Wrong: Frankie Montas: Is He A Bust Or Can He Bounce Back In 2021?

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Entering 2020 there were high hopes for the A’s Frankie Montas, including here at Rotoprofessor. Ranked as a Top 15 starting pitcher, we described him by saying:

Montas broke out in ’19, despite throwing 96.0 innings, with a 2.63 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Not only that, he displayed all of the skills we look for with a 9.66 K/9, 2.16 BB/9 and 49.4% groundball rate. The key was the inclusion of a third pitch, reducing his fastball usage (56.8%) and incorporating a split-finger fastball (18.3%). Considering opponents hit .161 against the pitch and they barely made contact (22.06% Whiff%), it’s an encouraging sign of what’s to come. It helped him get a spike in his O-Swing% (35.1%) and while his HR/9 at home could regress (0.43) it’s obviously not enough of a red flag. The new pitch mix helps to support the breakout and there’s little reason to think that he’ll be limited in any way, creating a great target.

Things started off promising for Montas after he allowed 4 ER over his first four starts, before they completely fell off a cliff:

  • First 4 Starts – 23.0 IP, 1.57 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 8.61 K/9, 3.52 BB/9
  • Final 7 Starts – 30.0 IP, 8.70 ERA, 1.90 WHIP, 11.40 K/9, 4.20 BB/9

There was some poor luck during those final seven starts, as he posted a .393 BABIP and 60.5% strand rate, though we can’t put those numbers in a bubble. He was hit extremely hard, with a 45.7% Hard%, and that type of number will always make it difficult to be productive.

Interestingly the problems came against his sinker and split-finger fastball, with the former being an issue that carried over from ’19. Just look at the SLG on his four pitches over the past two years:

Pitch20192020
Fourseam.460.326
Sinker.462.610
Slider.248.283
Split-Finger.272.600

Opposing hitters hit .342 against his sinker in ’20 after they hit .311 against the pitch in ’19. Interestingly it was the inclusion of his split-finger that was noteworthy to his production in ’19, so seeing him struggle with that pitch in ’20 should be tied to his struggling production. He was throwing it less (18.33% to 12.91%), and he simply didn’t get the job done with it.

Time will tell if he can figure that out once again in ’21, but if he continues to struggle with that pitch (and his sinker, at least keeping the ball in the ballpark) he isn’t going to be productive. He’ll be worth the flier as a bounce back candidate, but he certainly won’t be viewed nearly as highly in ’21.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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