It has been a difficult year and a half for a lot of people. Oakland A’s starter Frankie Montas had been diagnosed with Covid-19 before the season began and early in the year, it seemed he might have been still feeling some after-effects. Inconsistency was the game and Montas was the king of it. Showing some flashes of brilliance while also looking completely lost at times. Through his first 17 starts, Montas only had two starts where he didn’t allow an earned run. Something needed to give, and Montas went and discovered it.
Mixing It Up
Focusing on his last six starts, Montas has made a few tweaks in his pitch mix. Through his first 17 starts, Montas was primarily a sinker, four-seam fastball, and splitter combo. While he had a slider, it rarely reached a usage% over 25 in a single game. Montas’ sinker is just not good enough to be a primary pitch. It doesn’t register above-average horizontal or vertical movement and has registered a groundball rate below 50%. If your sinker isn’t getting groundballs, then it’s probably best to not throw it as much. Montas’ best pitches are his fastball and splitter with his slider showing some room for growth. That’s where Montas needs to focus his usage on, and it appears he’s starting to do that.
Over his past six starts, Montas’ primary pitch has been his splitter. Throwing it about 31% of the time, the pitch moves a little more than the average splitter at his velocity but not many are throwing splitter at that velocity. He does have some gyro force on the ball which creates an hour difference in his spin-based and observed spin direction. There may be some seam-shifted-wake forces at play here with his splitter but I’m not sure if that’s an added benefit or not to this pitch. The biggest asset to Montas splitter is that is roughly 8 mph slower and 750 RPM’s less than his fastball. He also throws it from the same release point so it becomes nearly impossible to tell what is out of the hand. That’s led to some fantastic results with the pitch.
Over his past six starts, Montas has generated some impeccable results with his splitter. He’s generated a 29% SwStr% with his splitter over that time and a 35% CSW. It’s not only a weapon at getting swings and misses, hitters are having a tough time making solid contact against it. He’s allowed 27 balls in play against his splitter and 19 of them have been on the ground. For those of you who don’t like to do that math, that is a 70% groundball rate. He’s allowed six balls to have an exit Velo over 95 mph over that time as well but five of them have come on the ground. Hitters have a slash line of .107/.161/.121 against his splitter over his recent stretch. He’s dominating them with that pitch. He’s only thrown 30% of his splitters inside the strike zone but since he’s locating 48% of his splitters right below the bottom of the zone, it becomes nearly impossible to layoff if you aren’t expecting it. Pair that with his fastball, hitters are in some trouble.
Frankie Montas has slowly been switching his sinker usage with his fastball usage. His sinker usage has trended downward and a season-low on August 4th at 16%. His fastball has been utilized over 30% of the time in back-to-back starts which was the first time had done that since May. Montas has been hitting 97 consistently average 96.3 MPH on his fastball this season and 96.2 over this recent stretch. He spins his fastball around 2350 RPMs and was spinning it around 2400 RPMs before the crackdown so Montas hasn’t seen a dramatic drop-off in terms of spin and that helps give me more faith in his fastball. And as already mentioned, it’s thrown at the same release point as his splitter.
Montas has seen a lot of success with his fastball recently. He’s registered a near 15% SwStr% and 32% CSW on the pitch over the last month. The hitters are still making hard contact against his fastball but that’s to be expected. He’s been fortunate enough to have registered a slash line of .212/.278/.303 against his fastball. Still, with the SwStr% up and the CSW up, you can live with the expected stats being well above the actual production. He’s throwing his fastball in the zone a lot to try and set up his other pitches and that will mean living with some louder contact. He’s only allowed two home runs over his past seven starts so it hasn’t burned him too much. It’s something to keep an eye on though because that can quickly turn on its head if he continues to give up loud contact.
Paired with his plus fastball and dominant splitter, is Montas’ slider. While his slider has been an extreme net negative for him this year, a +7 RV and .367 wOBA against, there are some encouraging signs. The first being he’s added more movement to the pitch and adjusted the types of spin on the ball. In 2020, he was throwing a slider that would have a 9:30 spin-based spin direction with a 9:00 observed spin direction. Relying more on side spin and gyro force he’s altered to start incorporating some backspin on the ball. He’s also throwing is two and a half miles per hour harder than he did last year. He wants less sweep and more hard movement down. It’s not quite a cutter or an in-between type pitch, but it trends more in that direction than it does as a traditional slider. It’s unique and that’s all that matters in today’s game, being unique.
While I mentioned hitters finding success against the pitch this year, they haven’t found it recently. His slider has generated a 17% SwStr% but an even crazier 42% CSW! He’s catching hitters off guard with it by keeping it around the strike zone. He’s thrown his slider in the zone 44% of the time and 57 times to be exact. Of those 57 times, he’s thrown it in the zone, he’s created 24 called strikes. Let’s compare that to Freddy Peralta who has thrown his slider in the zone 44 times over that same period, a 40% zone rating so similar to Montas, who has received just 12 called strikes over that period, 15% lower rate wise than Montas. Peralta generates more whiffs sure but Montas’ slider doesn’t need to be a swing and miss pitch. It just has to be effective and a 42% CSW would indicate that it is. Add in that he has induced a .231/.286/.308 slash line on that pitch, Montas has three lethal pitches he can turn to in any given count with confidence. That sets him up well for success.
A Potential Workhorse
One thing that always makes starting pitchers more valuable is the ability to work deep into a game. Something that can help establish a pitcher is the ability to be consistent in the amount of work they provide. Frankie Montas can do both. Montas failed to complete five innings just twice this year. One was his first start of the year, the other was his fourth start of the year. Since April 21st, he has worked at least five innings in every start he’s made. He’s worked into the sixth in 18 of his 23 starts this year. He’s worked at least six innings in 14 of his starts. This wasn’t a skill I was expecting the A’s starter to have this year given how he struggled a bit early, but it is one he possesses and makes him a serious fantasy baseball asset.
While Montas’ ERA does climb the longer he stays in the game his peripheral statistics tend to stay roughly the same. In 2021, Montas has a 17.4 K-BB% and 4.02 xFIP the first time through the order. The second time through he has 21.7 K-BB% and 3.28 xFIP while the third time through he has a 21.2 K-BB% and a 3.64 xFIP. Some random home run luck is involved in there but he can find a way to maintain his performance throughout the game and can start missing more bats as the game goes on. Something that could give front-line ace potential.
There aren’t many workhorses in baseball. Montas has thrown 131 innings so far this year and depending on how the rest of the year goes, he could reach up to 180-190 innings. With few pitchers threatening for that amount, he is a really good late addition for a playoff push for fantasy managers in the thick of it this year. He’s also the perfect candidate to pick up for future performance as well. While his ERA has finally dipped below four, his other peripheral statistics have been below four for quite some time. If there is a way to acquire Frankie Montas, you should be trying to do it. He’s ready to build off his excellent 2019 season and help create a sneaky dominant Oakland rotation. Paired with the likes of Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, and James Kaprielian, Oakland could find themselves making some noise in the playoffs.
Photos by Larry Placido & Cody Glenn /Icon Sportswire) | Adapted by Aaron Polcare (@graphical_ark on Twitter)