Believe it or not, Frankie Montas has been bouncing around the MLB for nine years now. He’s still just 26, but so far in his career, he’s played for the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago White Sox, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and now the Oakland Athletics. And in all that time, until 2017, he only got a taste of the majors once — for two starts and some relief appearances for the White Sox in 2015.
Once he arrived to the A’s though, he got some time in the majors, pitching out of the bullpen for 32 innings in 2017 to the tune of an Orioles-like 7.03 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. But after spending some time in Triple-A last year, Montas popped back up for the A’s, started 11 games, and looked halfway decent — posting a 3.88 ERA and 3.90 FIP. Not great, but decent.
So why on earth am I on a fantasy baseball site writing about some 26-year-old journeyman whose best season can be described “not a complete disaster?” Because he’s made a tweak to his repertoire, and it’s one that I think could could help his game significantly (and if you’ve read my stuff before, you know how much I love definitive skill changes in previously unknown players).
Montas has added a new pitch to his repertoire — a split fastball — and I think it could help him pitch to lefties, something that has been extremely difficult for him to this point.
As it stands, Montas is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, throwing a fastball and a slider. Now, to be more specific, he throws a sinker and a four-steam fastball, though he doesn’t throw the four-seamer a ton (just 17.5% of the time last year).
His sinker can be pretty sweet though, take a look:
He averages about 96 mph on the pitch and is able to hit 99 with decent movement. When he’s got it working, it can look nice, but it got knocked around last year, with opposing hitters having a .392 wOBA and a .200 ISO against the pitch. If there’s a main source of his problems, it’s this pitch, and it’s his most-thrown pitch.
But then comes the sexy pitch — his slider:
Last year, this pitch was pretty solid, posting a 31.9% chase rate, 14.3% SwStr rate, and a 1.5 pVAL. Opposing hitters couldn’t do much with the pitch either when they did make contact, posting just a .247 wOBA and .057 ISO against it.
And like I said before, Montas does toss in a four-seam fastball that actually did pretty well last year:
It’s got the near-100 mph velocity that his sinker has, just a different kind of movement obviously, and it worked pretty well last year, with a .261 wOBA and .073 ISO against.
But for Montas to really be effective, it’s pretty clear he needs another pitch, and that’s where the splitter comes in.
Montas added the pitch this spring, and it earned him a spot in the rotation. In fact, it impressed manager Bob Melvin quite a bit: “What’s made him who he is now is adding the split-finger and being a true three-pitch mix guy and command of all three,” he said. “He’s a little bit of a different guy than we’ve seen the last couple years.”
Montas said he’s been working on the pitch with pitching coach Scott Emerson since last spring training but really focused on the pitch this year.
So why is this such an important pitch for him? Well, like I said earlier, Montas has really struggled against left-handed hitters, who slashed .300/.362/.523 against him last year. But throwing a splitter against lefties could work really well for Montas because compared with other types of fastballs, splitters work really well against left-handed hitters from right-handed pitchers.
Take a look at how splitters compared with all other fastballs last year for left-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers:
|AVG||ISO||wOBA||Avg. Exit Velocity|
In other words, if Montas needs a fastball-type pitch to throw that lefties will have a difficult time hitting from him, a splitter is the right pitch, and if he can throw that more and his sinker less, that could be really good for him.
So how has it looked so far this year? We can only draw so many conclusions from just two starts, but so far it looks like it’s working pretty well. He’s thrown it 21.9% of the time so far, and his sinker usage has dropped to 32.5% of his repertoire this year.
His splitter is coming in around 88 mph on average with above-average movement on it, and it’s generating some swings and misses too, posting a 36% chase rate and a 16.2% swinging-strike rate.
Not only that, but the pitch looks like it’s helping against lefties too. Here’s a look at how Montas’s fastballs did last year against lefties compared with how his splitter is doing this year so far:
|AVG||ISO||wOBA||Avg. Exit Velocity|
|Fastballs (2018)||.337||.260||.417||88.5 MPH|
|Splitter (2019)||.143||.143||.178||82.9 MPH|
So far, this pitch is working for Montas, and I’m hopeful that this could change his game and help him sustain some success. It’s clear the pitch has impressed his manager, and that likely means he’ll stick around in the rotation.
Montas is almost certainly available in your fantasy league (he’s available in 92% of leagues as of this writing). I’m not telling you to run out and pick him up right now, but I would recommend keeping an eye on this. If Montas strings together a couple more good starts, he could be worth a grab in some leagues, and if he’s available in a dynasty league, I’d snag him as a speculative add. I always love when pitchers toy with their repertoires, and while it doesn’t always lead to success, often times when a pitcher comes out of nowhere and breaks out from a mediocre starter to a good one, it comes alongside a change in their repertoire.
Photo by Larry Placido/Icon Sportswire