We aren’t talking about Frankie Montas enough. Sure, various pundits noted early on that he scrapped his change-up in favor of a splitter. After a few good starts some mentioned that he had taken a step forward from a disappointing 2018 campaign, that never really got off the ground. Some rumblings have started out of the Bay Area concerning his All-Star case. But, overall Frankie hasn’t created the buzz that some other young starters have.
It’s somewhat understandable that Montas’ early success has gotten lost in the shuffle this year, and not just because he plays in Oakland (though it isn’t helping). The A’s have been extremely cautious with his innings thus far. He’s thrown over 6 innings just twice and over 100 pitches only 3 times this season. And those innings haven’t been electrifying. Montas has only managed one double-digit strikeout effort and has allowed at least one earned run in all but one game. While perfectly helpful in both real-life and fantasy baseball, most people don’t stop to talk about 6 innings of 2 run baseball with 7Ks.
Despite outstanding numbers – 9-2, 2.85 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9.66 K/9 – Montas hasn’t generated a compelling narrative. He isn’t a former first-round pick and highly touted prospect who hit the baseball equivalent of rock-bottom only to just as quickly vault himself into the AL Cy Young conversation like Lucas Giolito. He hasn’t recaptured the magic that people saw flashes of during his first stint in the Majors like Luis Castillo. He’s a 26 year-old who worked his way through the minors at a steady pace while being traded three times and has had some ups and downs in limited MLB action.
Even as I searched for some sort of remarkable stat to relay to everyone that would prove Montas’ greatness what I found was the numerical equivalent of being overshadowed by a more fantastic story. Believing that Montas’ velocity has been a key factor in his success I compared him with the other top flame-throwing starters. Looking at the table below, there isn’t one particular explanation for what Montas has been doing. He has solid strikeout numbers, but nothing compared to Gerrit Cole or Blake Snell. His walk BB/9 is low, but not in the vicinity of Walker Buehler’s. His HR/FB rate is nearly as good as Sandy Alcantara’s, but both of those make sense based on their home ballparks.
The most practical knowledge we can glean from this analysis is that this isn’t a matter of good fortune for Frankie. A BABIP of .313 justifies his batting average against of .238. As just mentioned, playing in cavernous Oakland Coliseum helps keep his HR numbers down. His strand-rate is a bit high at 73.4 percent, but not at an unsustainable level like Luis Castillo’s 85.6 percent.
Most managers have discovered the utility of having Montas in their fantasy rotations. As more leagues start to adopt quality starts as a category (something I am a big proponent of) having someone who nearly always throws 6 innings, gives up 1-3 runs and strikes out 5-9 batters every five days is a nice option. While I think there is merit in sometimes just writing about someone for the sake of saying how awesome they are, you are probably reading this hoping for some sort of advice, well here it is: INVEST IN FRANKIE MONTAS IN KEEPER AND DYNASTY LEAGUES RIGHT NOW.
The early returns on the switch from the change-up to the splitter weren’t overwhelming, but he’s found a groove with it now. The split adds a new dimension to his pitch arsenal that could eventually lead to massive amounts of strikeouts. The PutAway% (strikeouts with pitch divided by two-strike pitches of that type thrown) and Whiff% of the splitter are 41.2 and 27.8 compared to 10.0 and 0.0 for the change-up last year. It’s also a pitch that he can use against both left and right-handed hitters which he wasn’t comfortable doing with the change-up.
There is still time to get shares of Montas at a relative discount in long-term leagues while the A’s restrict his innings. But, that window is going to start closing soon if things continue to trend this way. Montas has increased the chase-rate on his pitches from 24.7 percent in 2018 to 32.3 percent this season. Hitters are barreling up his pitches at almost half the rate of the league average (3.3 percent versus 6.4 percent). If this is his new floor, I can’t wait to see what his ceiling is.