I Mean, Prospects Don’t Last For 13 Years Right?
Some players get the call to stage quickly, and for some, like Frankie Montas it takes a bit longer when you’re sauteed on the hot stove. He began his journey stateside in professional baseball with the Red Sox in 2009. After working his way up their farm system to AA he was traded to the White Sox at the deadline in 2013 as a part of the 3-team deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston. Starting over at A-ball he had to work his way up again, and finally, as a member of the AA Barons in 2015, Montas carried a 2.97 ERA in 112 IP.
That was enough to earn him a cup of coffee in which the young flamethrower posted a 12.0 K/9 despite a 5 BB/9 in a limited 15 innings. That same season he appeared in the Southern League All-Star Game as well as the MLB Futures Game. You see, in spring training that season Montas flashed his 70-grade fastball that began to touch 100 mph since he had built up more strength. And thus the hype built up with him.
Then that offseason, Frankie Montas was traded to the Dodgers. Once again, he was the primary chip in a deal; this time sending Todd Fraizer to the White Sox as part of another 3-team deal with the Reds.
A Split Decision
A rib injury made his time there mostly forgettable as he was yet again a major trade chip to the Athletics in the deal that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to LA. Bouncing around from organization to organization seemed to delay his development; would he ever get his chance? Finally, after a rocky start, he broke out on the A’s in the 2018 season. A 3.88 ERA in 11 starts was impressive, but it only came with a 6 K/9 (15.2%) and the fastball averaged 96.4, not the 97+ it had in 2015.
It wasn’t until the following season in 2019 that his strikeout rose back up to a 9.66 K/9 (26.1%) with a walk rate of just 5.8%. The secret sauce? He had ditched his changeup in favor of a splitter he had been working on in the offseason. That splitter proved to be the difference-maker. A pitch that ended up carrying a +3.3 runs above average value, whereas his change was a meager -0.2 value the season prior. The splitter had a whiff rate of 40% and an xBA of only .161. He found a pitch to pair with his elite fastball.
This Is Not Going To End Well
And then, midway through that season—the positive PED test. Through 16 starts to begin the year in 2019 Montas had a pristine 2.63 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 103 Ks in 96 IP. Then it all came crashing down. The test result in June came back positive. MLB handed out an 80-game suspension and was disappointed in himself for the carelessness, Frankie didn’t fight it.
He had been taking a supplement that was not yet approved by the FDA and contained the banned drug Osterine. One that was not on the label. He screwed up. People who didn’t follow his growth were quick to suspect the PEDs were the reason for his breakout, but in reality, his pitches didn’t gain any velocity or a substantial change in their break… the introduction of the splitter was the main source for his improvement.
Coming back in 2020 wasn’t exactly an atmosphere for success. The preseason was a disaster as was the ramp-up. Montas, like many other pitchers, had a noticeable dip in his fastball. The results? Clearly, he was not himself, posting a 5.60 ERA in 53 IP. The main problem was his command (1.51 WHIP). A 9.7% walk rate was nearly double what he had the season before even though his K% stayed mostly the same. His splitter though was largely ineffective with opponents batting .333 and SLG .600 despite a 50% whiff rate. His pitches lacked life and couldn’t keep the balls down with his groundball rate dropping nearly 13%.
Have You Seen My Baseball?
Then came last season. Montas threw 187 IP and compiled a 3.37 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP and 207 punch-outs. His velo was back up to 2019 levels and the splitter was the most effective to date. He limited batters to just a .126 BA (.134 xBA). Frankie was back.
The key for him, his 70-grade fastball has been so good as a starter, it has never allowed more than .250 average. Whereas the sinker, was overused and thus was regularly hit above .300… it was time to flip the script. Montas went back to the fastball increasing its usage to 29% and dialed back the sinker equally. And he went back to the splitter…
This increased the overall effectiveness. Additionally a bit less of the slider, he featured his plus splitter to a new high of 22.4%. The results were fantastic. This last year Montas’ splitter was the best it has ever been. Paired with a more robust usage of his fastball, the splitter and his sinker became more effective pitches. Though talked about less, Montas’ splitter was actually more effective than Kevin Gausman’s (.133 BA). Montas had mastered his out pitch. The splitter was nearly unhittable.
Frankie’s A Fox
2021 was a return to form for Frankie Montas. His ratios and rates bounced back in a big way and he looked like his 2019 again. This time, across a full season his numbers held up. Not only did he show his breakout was for real, but in the second half, he actually looked even better.
After the All-Star Break, Frankie limited hitters to a measly .199 batting average and boosted his K-rate to 10.55 (29.7%) and an ERA of only 2.17, which put him for 4th best in the league for the 2nd half behind Julio Urias at a 2.04 mark. Now that leaves us with the question, has Frankie Montas the Ace finally arrived?
Yes. His splitter has become an extreme weapon for getting outs getting both a high swing and miss and also a high groundball rate, and his fastball (which was always good) is a good setup pitch for the rest of his arsenal as he throws them all hard with easy velo that creates a strong contrast to his splitter. If the second half is any indication he’s settled into a better mix for limiting the long ball, partly by committing to the splitter over 25% (a high of 34.3% in July).
When comparing to similar pitchers in velocity and movement, he draws Brandon Woodruff, Nathan Eovaldi, and to lesser extent Zach Wheeler. Is that good? The only blemish on his otherwise stellar season was an increased barrel% over the 2020 season despite a lower hard contact rate of 30.4% compared to 35.9%. I think this will ultimately be less of an issue than it seems due to an increase in his groundball rate which led to a reduced HR/FB%. At his current NFBC ADP of 86.5, he’s going around the likes of Cease, Manoah, and Trevor Rogers.
One thing he is likely to offer that the others do not is the likelihood of more innings having pitched 187 this last season. Cease is doubtful to surpass 175 this year after increasing his load by 100 IP in 2021 and the other 2 are coming off rookie campaigns where they ran out of gas short of 135 IP. Having already done it twice now, there’s just something about him.