With three wins above replacement in just sixteen starts, New York Yankees starter Michael Pineda is having a breakthrough season and currently is outperforming all but a handful of starters across the major leagues. Remember that guy? The Seattle Mariners had him, then traded him away in a blockbuster deal. That swap netted them Jesus Montero. Wonder what that guy is up to?
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Actually, it’s an exciting time for Montero, who has been called back up to the major leagues after a lengthy absence. So now both main pieces of the trade are in the majors. The deal’s a wash!! I kid, I kid. But with Montero coming back up, it’s at least worth wondering somewhat seriously if the M’s have any chance of getting something out of this deal.
Let’s first look at what Montero’s done in Tacoma this season: 368 plate appearances with a .332/.370/.529 line and fifteen home runs. Of those numbers it’s the batting average that jumps off the page at you. .332? Jesus Montero? No, he didn’t learn any kind of Ichiro skills – this is just the product of a .370 BABIP. He’s hitting the ball, but he’s also getting lucky.
The power is flashy, too, but this is the PCL we’re talking about. Not that Montero hasn’t been excellent – he’s running a 138 wRC+, which adjusts for park and league. He’s been 38 percent better than the average PCL hitter after putting his numbers in the context of his hitting environment. Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson are running comparable slash lines at the major league level, and each of them has a 147 wRC+. It’s not easy to hit like a superstar in the PCL, but it’s easier than you’d think.
That said, I’d probably caution against expecting anything at all from Montero in the majors. Nothing has really changed in his skillset, and we all remember how his his skillset has done in the majors. He’s walking less than ever, actually, while his strikeouts have more or less stayed where they’re at. His ISO is in line with where it’s been. He’s the same underlying player, but with less patience. And patience is especially important when making the jump to the major leagues.
Montero has been useful in the majors exactly once: as a September call-up tearing Yankee Stadium to pieces late in 2011. That was, of course, when his value was the highest, and that month probably directly led to the M’s acquisition of him. He did that because of a .400 BABIP. So we know what Montero needs in order to be successful: a high BABIP! Not exactly a fair thing to expect from a slow-footed 1B/DH.
Montero will get a chance to steal some at-bats against lefty starters, and then he’ll probably go back to the minors after the All-Star Break. The M’s did the classic option-a-starter-who-won’t-start-for-a-while move in order to get Montero here, shipping J.A. Happ to class A to chill out for a bit since he wasn’t going to pitch until after the break anyways. He’ll be needed again, and when that time comes the Mariners will have to lose a position player. Odds are it’ll be Montero.
Unless he rakes. If Montero comes out the gate mashing, the team might want to give him a littler bit longer of a look. But unless he’s getting super lucky on balls in play, it seems like they’re going to see what they’ve always seen – a DH who doesn’t get on base enough to excuse his oh-so-occasional pop. That’s not a guy worth having around.
The real hope here is that the power makes the trip from Tacoma to Seattle. It’s tough to take PCL power numbers and turn them into MLB power numbers, which is why it’s more useful to look at discipline stats. Montero’s got serious power in AAA, but that’s a really hard thing to replicate in the bigs. If he can find a way, then he’s a useful bench bat. But that’s one of the hardest parts of the AAA to MLB leap. Montero’s career MLB ISO is .138, which is heaps below average.
Jesus Montero is back in the big leagues, at least for a little while. He’ll get the chance to tee off against opposite-handed pitchers, and then he’ll head back to Tacoma (unless he tears it up beyond what anyone should expect of him). If you want to get excited, then get excited! Nothing wrong with excitement. Just know that this isn’t likely to be a particularly impactful move.