Framing an argument for Cubs catcher Montero

SHARE Framing an argument for Cubs catcher Montero
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Montero really shines in getting pitches outside the zone called strikes. Among 53 catchers with at least 2,000 pitches received, Montero’s 10.4 oStr percentage leads the majors. | Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It has been a rugged season for Cubs catcher Miguel Montero, both at and behind the plate.

Discounting Montero’s six-game big-league debut with the Diamondbacks in 2006, his .194 batting average, .321 slugging percentage and .646 OPS through Sunday all would be career lows. That’s a big drop from his .754 OPS last season, his first with the Cubs.

As a catcher, his minus-4 defensive runs saved ranks 23rd in the majors, according to data at billjamesonline.com. That’s a drop from plus-7 and a ranking of 11th last season. He has thrown out only three runners in 49 stolen-base attempts. That alone is worth minus-6 runs saved.

One thing Montero still can do, however, is frame pitches. Pitch-framing data at statcorner.com/CatcherReport.php ranks Montero third in the majors at 12.6 runs above average. (His framing has saved the Cubs about a dozen runs in 3,377 pitches received.)

Also among the leaders is Montero’s teammate David Ross, who ranks seventh with 6.0 runs above average in 2,743 pitches. Between them, Montero and Ross have saved 18.6 runs in 6,120 pitches, not far off the pace of major-league leader Buster Posey of the Giants (19.0 runs above average in 5,702 pitches).

Pitch-framing data is made possible by electronic pitch tracking. Stat Corner tracks zBall percentage (pitches in the strike zone called balls) and oStr percentage (strikes called on pitches outside the zone). Those are compared with major-league averages to calculate the number of extra strikes or balls called with each catcher.

Montero and Ross really shine in getting pitches outside the zone called strikes. Among 53 catchers with at least 2,000 pitches received, Montero’s 10.4 oStr percentage leads the majors and Ross’ 9.5 ranks fourth. In zBall percentage, Montero’s 11.4 ranks fifth and Ross’ 12.9 ranks 14th.

With Montero catching, 95 more pitches than average have been called for strikes. His average of 2.19 extra strikes per game leads the list of frequent catchers, with Posey next at 1.95 and Ross sixth at 1.29.

In limited play, rookie Willson Contreras also is on the positive side, with 0.47 extra strikes per game and 1.1 runs above average in 1,386 pitches.

Not all teams put equal emphasis on the data. The White Sox took a step down in framing this season in a bid to bolster offense from their catchers.

Dioner Navarro (minus-98 calls, minus-1.47 strikes per game) ranks 51st among the 53 frequent catchers at minus-13.0 runs above average and Alex Avila (minus-63, minus-1.76) is 46th at minus-8.4.

One of the Sox’ catchers in 2015, Tyler Flowers, is sixth at 8.4 runs above average for the Braves.

Big gains on offense haven’t materialized, either. Avila’s .720 OPS is near his career .740, but Navarro’s .619 is far below his career .683.

But framing is a point of emphasis on the North Side, underscored by the Cubs’ acquisitions of Montero and Ross before the 2015 season. Whatever other struggles Montero has had, his solid frame work remains in place.

Follow me on Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

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