With so many bullpens in fluid high leverage situations, it may be refreshing for fantasy owners to see Rafael Montero secure in the closer role for Seattle when the 2021 season starts. Acquired in a trade with Texas, Montero converted all eight save chances last year over 17.2 innings with a 19:6 K:BB, 4.08 ERA, 4.00 SIERA and 1.02 WHIP.
During his time in Texas, Montero appeared in 39 games finishing 22 of them in over 46.2 innings with 53 strikeouts against 11 walks, a 3.09 ERA and 0.986 WHIP (15th-best since the start of 2019 among relievers). Buoyed by a strong 2019 sample, these numbers provide a larger view of him as a reliever but he's a low risk add to a bullpen in need with Seattle. Montero's 28.6 percent strikeout rate and 5.9 walk percentage appeals to the front office of his new team along with giving up only two home runs against his last 72 batters faced.
According to Statcast, Montero changed his usage patterns resulting in 45 batted ball events giving up seven barrels (15.6 percent), an 88.2 MPH average exit velocity and 44.4 percent hard hit rate. As this chart illustrates, he used more four-seam fastballs and sinkers with fewer changeups last season:
Digging deeper into his data results from this change, Montero reduced his zone contact by three percent while inducing almost a 13 percent increase in chase contact. However, his whiff percentage in 2020 fell by 4.8 percentage points. He also generated fewer ground balls (40.3 percent in 2019 to 28.9 percent in 2020) trading them for line drives which rose by almost seven percentage points and luckily more pop-ups which defrayed some damage to his ratios.
If Montero can overcome his expected numbers, the key will be his changeup. In 2020, Montero owned a .240 expected batting average (xBA), .462 expected slugging (xSLG) and .317 expected weighted on-base average (39 points above his actual). His changeup produced a 55 percent ground ball rate in 2019 along with a 38 strikeout percentage and 39.4 percent whiff rate. Last year, it only generated a 33.3 ground ball percentage, 16.7 strikeout percent and 29 percent whiff rate. Montero pivoted to the sinker out of necessity it seems, so maybe he lost his grip or feel with the pitch. If Spring reports indicate his changeup bouncing back, buying into him for saves becomes less risky.
When trying to value Montero, it lies in his team giving him some leash to start out in the ninth inning with hopes his arsenal holds up through the season. Here are his projection sets entering 2021:
Recording 20 or more saves in the present baseball landscape comes with inherent value. Remember Montero's in the arbitration process and then a free agent in 2023, so Seattle could decide to trade him before the deadline if the team falls out of playoff contention. This makes Montero a terrific sell high player in leagues with trades if he starts out hot this season. Pay for the stability, profit if the changeup rebounds and keep tabs on the progress of Andrés Muñoz in the second half of the season.
THE BAT courtesy of Derek Carty
ATC courtesy of Ariel Cohen
ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski