Frankie Montas was the Oakland A’s pitcher with the most to gain entering 2019. With nowhere to go but out of the organization, and only a handful of good major league outings on his resume Montas needed things to click, and quickly. Then he started throwing a splitter and it has made all of the difference.
In every single way Montas is a better pitcher than he was in his previous major league experience. Strikeouts are up considerably (from 19.8% to 23.4%*) and he cut his walks (10% down to 5%*) and home runs allowed (1.3 per 9 to 0.67 per 9*) in half.
All of this is leading to a much better overall pitcher:
Frankie Montas’ Career Progression*
The velocity and biting slider were what made Montas a prospect. It’s the splitter, though, that has been the key to Montas’ breakout. At an average velocity of 86 MPH Montas’ splitter comes in about 10 MPH slower than his fastball, and a couple ticks slower than his slider. Opponents do as little damage against his splitter as against his slider (38 wRC+*) but they swing and miss more often (19% SwStr %*). The splitter is a real weapon and accounts for the bulk of Montas’ strikeouts. Just look at it!
11 dirty Frankie Montas Swing & Miss Splitters in 16 Seconds. pic.twitter.com/TDY5EEpWJj— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 22, 2019
He has entirely ditched his changeup and swapped some sliders for splitters resulting in a 16.8% usage, which is nearly as often as he throws his four seamer. He still throws his sinker and slider more often than anything, but the splitter has given him a true four-pitch repertoire.
I contend that Montas should throw even more splitters. Back in February fantasy baseball writer of the year, Alex Chamberlain split open this egg of knowledge:
this is, hands down, my favorite statcast discovery so far— Alex Chamberlain (@DolphHauldhagen) February 21, 2019
i looked at every two-pitch sequence (within PA but not across) in 2018 to see which combination is best at inducing swinging strikes
the result: throw the same exact pitch right before it! pic.twitter.com/8KZ8aaiGMM
It seems that splitter-splitter is the most effective two pitch sequence for inducing whiffs. We already know that Montas has upped his strikeout game by introducing the splitter. Perhaps it’s time to double-down?
Case in Point
In Montas’ 6 shutout innings today he threw 24 splitters out of 101 pitches, per Statcast, which is the highest percentage of splitters in a game this season. 11 were swung on and missed (46% SwStr%!), 2 were called strikes, 2 were fouled off, and 1 was put in play. 5 of his 9 strikeouts were from splitters.
Often times breakouts like this get brushed off as a small-sample flash, but when a swing change or improved approach, and in Montas’ case a new pitch, we can take the results more seriously.
(* = Stats from before today’s game)