One wonders if Willson Contreras would have gotten a runout halfway through the season if Miguel Montero hadn’t basically become David Ross without the arm. The year started woefully for Miggy, with a 68 wRC+ in April. Things improved in May for him, as he slugged .400 which helped balance out a .233 average. It didn’t get too much better after that though, as he only saw more than 50 plate-appearances in September when things were already settled and everyone was getting some time because there wasn’t much else to do.
Injuries didn’t help, and it left Miggy cheating on fastballs. At least it sure looks that way, as Montero hit .293 and slugged .524 on four-seamers last year, and was basically a a drunken hobo against any other kind of offering, the highlight–if you can call it that–a .178 slugging mark against sinkers and hitting .179 against sliders. You can’t always conclude that Montero was selling out for the fastball, but it wouldn’t be much of a hop, skip and a jump. If you’re into hopping, skipping, and jumping. Can be rough on the knees though.
In the field, for the first time Montero was a negative. And that’s with his plus pitch-framing skills, so it basically came down to having all the arm-strength of one of those inflatable waving dudes you see at car dealerships and when Bayley enters the arena. A winter of health and rehab might help that, but it’s unlikely he’s ever going to have a representative arm behind the plate. Luckily, in this day and age, teams are reticent to run all day on catchers and even if they were few have the roster to make that work.
While it’s easy to look at Montero’s .248 BABIP and think he was a touch unlucky, but looking at the contact he was making kind of puts that to bed. His line-drive rate dropped to 16.8%, and he saw a 6% decrease in his hard contact overall. You’re just not going to get even an average BABIP if you’re tossing mere suggestions off the bat instead of definitive statements.
The other thing is that Montero didn’t exactly take kindly to a backup role, though he did have the professionalism to not air his bitches until after the parade (barely). You’d have to believe that Maddon was clear with him before spring training and telling him what he’s going to be this season.
What does that entail? Probably catching Arrieta for sure, as we know he preferred throwing to Miggy over Willson for whatever reason. Though if Arrieta gets walk-happy again, and those runners get ambitious on the base paths, we’ll have to revisit this. Miggy’s framing skills obviously seem to align with Kyle Hendricks, but Contreras didn’t have much of a problem with him last year either.
To expect much of Montero at the plate is probably folly, because hitters don’t tend to increase bat-speed when they turn 34, especially as the leg muscles turn to gravel after squatting for half their entire lives. Maybe not playing every day immediately will keep him fresh enough to pop with the occasional big hit as he did in October. Or maybe we can hire Joe Blanton to just hang more sliders to him when we have to have it.
As far as backups though, you could do a lot worse. If Contreras were to suffer a long-term injury or get found out in his first full year in the majors, then this could be something of a problem. And now Adam Eaton isn’t even in the same town so there’s less of a threat that Montero finally bludgeons him.