It’s been a whirlwind career for Frankie Montas. While only appearing in 44 games before his 27th birthday, he’s pitched for four different organizations including the Red Sox, White Sox, Dodgers, and Athletics. He’s dealt with an array of injuries, inconsistencies in his performance, and has had a rough time finding a full-time role on a major league pitching staff.
All the same can be said about Montas for the 2018 season. He skated-by with below-average peripherals as a starter in the first half on his way to a 3.35 ERA in 48 1⁄3 innings. In the second half, his good run of fortune turned into an implosion, pitching to the tune of a 5.40 ERA and 5.02 FIP. In a playoff race, the A’s couldn’t afford this subpar performance, so he found himself back at where he began the season, in triple-A. All-in-all, the numbers against lesser-competition didn’t end up looking pretty, as he finished with a 4.65 ERA, 4.48 FIP, and 11.6 percent K-BB-rate. Something needed to change for him to make the leap to successful MLB pitcher.
Most of the issues in Montas’ short big league career have stemmed from his struggles with lefties, having more than the usual right-hander does. Since 2016 (minimum 25 IP), among 616 qualified right-handed pitchers, only 60 have allowed a higher wOBA than Montas to lefties. Only 36 have a lower K-rate than his 12.7 percent. And with all those extra balls in play, only two have allowed a higher hard-hit rate. Not ideal at all.
Luckily for Montas though, he seems tohave developed a secondary pitch that could change the course of his 2019 season and the rest of his career. Starting last year outside of his games, he messed around with a splitter. After a long offseason of working with it, he introduced in Spring Training games. This came with a dominant spring performance (16 IP, 11 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 16 SO), whether that had to do with the new splitter mostly or partially.
“What’s made him who he is now is adding the split-finger and being a true three-pitch mix guy and command of all three,” Melvin said. “He’s a little bit of a different guy than we’ve seen the last couple years.”
Said Montas: “Last year I was kind of playing with (the splitter), and this offseason I was working on it. I really started to focus on it since spring training, but me and (pitching coach) Scott Emerson were working on it since last spring training.”
Perhaps more interesting was Montas’ improved success against lefties in camp (small sample size warning). In 7 1⁄3 innings against lefties in Spring Training, he allowed only seven hits and one run, striking out eight and walking four.
The Montas splitter made its official debut on Sunday in his season debut. The start was a good one, allowing three hits and one run in six innings against the Angels. Out of his 77 pitches in the game, he threw 17 splitters. That’s 17 more than he threw in his whole career before that start. The most important bullet point of this is how he distributed the pitch. Of those 17 splitters, 15 went to left-handed hitters. Those hitters went one for five in plate appearances ending in that pitch. Out of the five swinging strikes he generated against lefties, four came on the splitter.
And honestly, based off past league results, he couldn’t have picked a better secondary offering to try out against lefties as a right-hander. Considering his past struggles with allowing batted balls against lefties, he needed something to aid that issue. And what do you know, league results have the splitter unsurprisingly have a considerable lead in k-rate versus other fastball-types.
And as for all that hard-hit contact he allowed to left-handed batters, the splitter looks like it can aid there too. Looking at all fastball types again, it has the lowest exit velocity against compared in RHP vs LHB matchups.
Remember, Montas adds this splitter to a repertoire that already consists of an upper-90s four-seamer, a plus-slider, and an average changeup. We’ll have to get a better look at how this new pitch works out in the long term, but for now we can consider it his weapon against his kryptonite.