*Update: Miguel Montero will be designated for assignment, according to Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago.
The Cubs had a rough evening in Washington on Tuesday.
But the Cubs lost complete control of the running game last night, allowing a total of seven stolen bases (including four to Turner alone) in a 6-1 loss to Washington.
Cubs catcher Miguel Montero has never shied away from criticizing a battery mate, notably Trevor Bauer in Arizona. He was at it again after last night’s game, directing blame toward starting pitcher Jake Arrieta.
Miguel Montero had some thoughts on those stolen bases… ??? pic.twitter.com/PwELkTTs8t
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) June 28, 2017
I am hopeful that Montero is someday asked to give a Ted Talk on leadership and managing relationships in a clubhouse. He is certainly candid if not accountable. Montero’s decision to direct blame elsewhere seems suspect since he has thrown out just one of 31 potential base-stealers this season. According to Statcast pop-time data, Montero is tied for 52nd among 52 qualified catcher with an average pop time of 2.12 seconds*. The league average is two seconds. Austin Hedges leads the majors with a 1.88 time. Fellow Cubs catcher Willson Contreras (1.93 seconds) ranks eighth.
*Among catchers who’ve had at least five steal attempts of second base against them this season.
As for pitchers, Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper wrote a great piece back in 2012 on the importance of fractions of seconds in the run game. Generally speaking, pitchers with times of 1.3 seconds and quicker to home are going to slow the run game, while anything above 1.5 seconds is going to entice teams to run. As such, a battery is generally looking to record a total time of 3.3 seconds or less. That should prevent most baserunners from stealing. Between 3.3 and 3.5 seconds is average. Above 3.5 seconds is likely to be a problem.
While Montero has struggled mightily and while he has declined to his current status as one of the poorest catch-and-throw receivers in the game, did he have a point last night? (Even if he broke from the norm of not criticizing a teammate.)
Did Montero have a chance last night in Washington?
Let’s investigate. Thanks to the wonders of video editing tools I was able to break down to a hundredth of a second the moments at which Arrieta released his pitches last night and when Montero received them.
Steal No. 1
Arrieta’s time to home: 1.55 seconds
Montero’s pop time: 2.03 seconds
Total: 3.58 seconds (Slow)
That’s actually a good pop time for Montero, but still below league average (and the throw bounced into second). But in defense of Montero, Arrieta was — and generally is — slow to the plate and continued to be for the remainder of the night.
Steal No. 2
Arrieta’s time to home: 1.68 seconds
Montero pop time: N/A
Montero had no shot here, as Arrieta was exceptionally slow to the plate.
Steal No. 3
Arrieta’s time to home: 1.58 seconds
Montero’s pop time: No throw
Not only was Arrieta slow to the plate, but he missed location here, forcing Montero to reach across his body and catch a ball nearly in the dirt. He had no chance against Turner, who runs and slides gracefully, like a plane touching down on a runway.
Steal No. 4
Arrieta’s time to home: 1.50 seconds
Montreo’s pop time: No throw
Even against a well located fastball, Turner steals third without a throw.
Steal No. 5
Arrieta’s time to home: 1.72 seconds
Montero’s pop time: 2.15 seconds
Total: 3.87 seconds (Slow)
By now, I assume everyone in the Nationals lineup has a green light, and Anthony Rendon takes off here against the Arrieta-Montero battery. This is an impossibly slow time from Arrieta, and even though Montero might have been helped slightly by an elevated location, the pitch is well out of the zone and he needs 2.15 seconds to glove and throw to second.
Steal No. 6
Arrieta’s time to home: 1.65 seconds
Montero’s pop time: No throw
With a runner on third, Arrieta doesn’t seem particularly concerned with the running game.
Arrieta’s time to home: 1.54 seconds
Montero’s pop time: 1.72 seconds
Total: 3.26 second (third base, though)
This is a throw to third, so the pop time cannot be compared to the standards established above, but again, the Cubs were failing to meet the demands of the stopwatch to slow the running game.
The results here aren’t great. Seven stolen-base attempts, four of which didn’t even draw throws, two others that were slow relative to league average, and one that appeared slow for third base. In no case did Arrieta record a time to the plate below 1.5 seconds. Even if Montero had recorded an average pop time in every case, the pair would have produced a time of 3.5 seconds or worse each time. Below average every time, in other words.
Nor is this much of a surprise: Arrieta has always been slow to the plate. When he’s pitching, 17% of base-stealers have been caught, compared to a 28% league-average rate during his career. This season, only 12% of base-stealers have been caught when Arrieta has been on the mound.
It underscores the importance of time to the plate as Jon Lester, and his well-known battles with the yips, controls the run game vastly better in part due to a quick time to the plate. When Montero has been catching anyone, a paltry 3% of base-stealers have been caught. Montero’s arm has declined significantly, as he led the league in caught-stealing percentage (40%) as recently as 2011, though that rate fell has fallen each year since 2012 (42%) to 20% in 2015 and 11% last season.
We can do the math, and it suggests and Montero and Arrieta should not be working together.