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Quick Look: Frankie Montas is Splitting the Difference

Oakland Athletics v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

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*

Season IP HR/9 K% BB% K-BB% BABIP FIP xFIP
Season IP HR/9 K% BB% K-BB% BABIP FIP xFIP
2015-2018 112 1.30 19.8% 10% 9.8% 0.335 4.72 4.68
2019 54 0.70 23.4% 5% 18.5% 0.303 2.90 3.32
Fangraphs.com

Master Splitter

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!

Usage

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:

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)