Miguel Montero and the feel for the game

One of the lingering questions this offseason for some fans was why the Cubs seemed to give up on the 28 year old,  physically gifted Welington Castillo behind the plate.  Those questions only got louder when Castillo got off to a great start, not just with the bat but also with his powerful arm.  Combine that with spring talk that he was starting to grasp some of the intangibles as well, there was some head-scratching. Why would the Cubs would pay $40M and give up a couple of good minor league arms for a catcher who has been much less productive the past two seasons as measured by WAR?

The answer should have become apparent in yesterday’s game.  Montero took charge as Arrieta was a bit wobbly early.  He helped him right the ship  and was as much a part of winning that game as Arrieta himself.  And while Starlin Castro helped generate the only offense, playing a big role in both runs, Montero made sure that the two runs were going to be enough.  He wasn’t about to let Arrieta go off the rails — and don’t think his pitcher didn’t appreciate it.

“Some guys need a pat on the back and some guys need to be yelled at, and I’m one of those guys who likes to be yelled at,” Arrieta said. “[Montero] recognizes things in situations that I need to do differently, and it’s great to have a voice like that behind the plate. We worked very well together.”

Sometimes we make too much of statistics.  They can be very helpful in understanding the game, but by themselves they are not enough.  A baseball team is still an organization of human beings who need to interact and trust each other.  Even though the game is seemingly set up as a series of one on one match-ups between pitcher and hitter, there is still a cooperative element that is difficult to measure, one that can extend beyond the play on the field.

We have all sorts of words we try to use to define these elements, such as chemistry, instincts, intangibles, and pitchability.  I like to use a much simpler term: feel.  I like that word because I don’t know quite how to intellectualize this or put it into words.  You just know it when you see or hear it.

If you’ll indulge me in some digression here, I will try to explain what I mean by “feel”.  The best way to do that is to talk about the things I know well.

There is a book by the author Malcolm Gladwell called “Blink” and in that book Gladwell touches on some people’s ability to tap into a seemingly innate knowledge.  We sometimes see the answer without even having to think about it — sometimes understanding even to a greater degree than those who might spend time studying and researching through external sources.  It is the product of many years of accumulated knowledge.  There is no short cut.  It is a sort of wisdom that comes with time.  It almost becomes a part of who we are.

For me, the two things I have been passionate about my whole life are writing and baseball.  I feel like I know them intimately, to the point where I don’t feel the need to intellectualize it.  When I see good writing, I know it.  And when I talk to someone about baseball, I can tell right away whether they have a real feel for the game.  For example, when I first started this blog I could tell instantly from the time they were just commenters that Kevin Gallo had a feel for the game and that Adam Fels was a writer.   Whenever Kevin and Adam had something to say against conventional wisdom, it was time to pay attention.

So… back to Montero.  He has been a catcher for parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues and has been honing his craft as a professional  since he was 18.  But it is more than just an accumulation of years.   He has a natural understanding for the game beyond the game, for the human side that lurks beneath the numbers we all like to quote.

“My job is to learn every personality,” Montero said. “I’m like a psychologist as well. I had a really good impression of him, a really good read of him. I know he’s a guy who you can go a little bit hard on him and he can take it and he’ll get better. Some guys, you have to go softer because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. I went to the mound, I know he can take it, and I let him know what I think. It did help, because he agreed with what I said.”

Feel.

Montero has it.  You can’t measure it.  You can’t really even describe it.  You just know it when you see it.  And nobody got a better view of what that means than Jake Arrieta and the Cubs did yesterday.

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  • I'm glad Montero is a Cub. Nice article. Off topic here but I recently started digging into the draft a little bit and so far I like Ian Happ.

  • In reply to Javier Bryant:

    Thanks Javier.

    Kevin loves Happ too. Good all around player, nice bat. Just a matter of finding a position. Kevin thinks he can play CF and if so, he'll get picked early.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Happen to be at HS game where Brendan Rodgers is SS. Great rocket throw to 1B to complete a DP (after the 2B bobbled the ball), and he hit sky high HR to dead left. I'm no scout, but guessing they might be onto something.

  • In reply to Jayhawk81:

    I saw him in a National Showcase tournament I was working last summer in Ft Myers, and he stood out then... Kid is the whole package, premium offensive potential in a pure shortstop

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    awesome article john.

  • Great read, John. It's easy for fans to forget that the FO was quite aware of Welly's stats and Montero's stats. They still made the deal. So there's always the possibility, however remote, that the FO executives might know more about baseball, and baseball players, than one can learn by spending 5 minutes looking up stats on a website.

  • In reply to CubMartyrComplex:

    Thanks.

    Exactly right. TNo fan has the same statistical or scouting information as the Cubs front office.

  • I feel what your saying, John. Kevin needs to work on his writing and Adam needs more baseball knowledge. :)
    I'm kidding of course. Montero intangibles are going to be our glue this year.

  • Great column!! Even though it's about Montero, I was also really struck by Arrieta's comment -- "I'm one of those guys who likes to be yelled at." Sounds like he has a lot of self-awareness.

  • In reply to October:

    Thanks, Very true. I've heard Lester say something similar. I believe Samardzija was the same way too.

  • Hoping for a few things regarding our catchers.
    1) The FO doesn't just give away Welly (which looks like that is not happening with the last few trades involving minor catcher moves)
    2) If we can not trade Welly for a value, that he becomes a human sponge and learns from Ross and Miggy
    3) I am hoping Miggy/Ross' experiences can continue to aide Hendricks to making the next step of Mind F_cking the batters. I feel like a pitcher like Hendricks, if on the same page, can really benefit from both and become an even better mound thinker and executor.
    4) I am hoping we are dealing with this position of strength in catching for many years to come (Beef, Schwarber, Zagunis, etc.)

  • Well, sure, but...
    Wasn't that Castillo behind the dish when Arrieta was having so much success LAST year?
    I'm going on trust on this one. The FO has reasons for replacing Beef that we can't easily see in on-field performance. Montero's ability to manage both people and the game are evident and could pay huge dividends for the Cubs. I could see him managing a team someday. I can't help feeling that Castillo is sort of in the same boat as Renteria - really didn't do anything "wrong," but the team just found someone better.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Castillo and Renteria are very comparable here for what you said and one more reason -- the Cubs didn't want to have to wait for them to develop those nuances when they had an opportunity to get someone who already has them.

    And the way Arrieta was throwing last year, he could have thrown to one of those pitch-back back stops and he would have been fine. The real measure is when a pitcher struggles.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The beginning of Wednesday's game was a lot like Jake's first few starts last year. He could have given up a couple of runs and pushed up the pitch count higher.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Hendricks & Wada also threw to him... As did Samardzija & Hammel before they were traded away. That said, I do like Montero very much & Welly almost as much.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    I'm pretty sure Hammel threw mostly to Baker. It was like a scheduled day off for Beef.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Castillo caught the entire game in all three of Jakes near no hitters...you can look up every game on Baseball reference .com

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Arrieta's "stuff" is filthy though. The guys that are going to benefit the most are Wood & Hendricks. They can't afford to make mistakes over the plate and the framing of Montero/Ross is far more important for them than it is for Arrieta.

  • Extremely good article John. This (and the astute commenters) are exactly why I visit your site multiple times a day.

    Thanks your hard work and thoughtfulness, and don't forget to shake out your slippers and shoes before you put them on to check for scorpions.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Thanks Toby.

    And believe me, I shake my shoes everyday before I put them on. That said, I have been to AZ many, many times and I have seen just one scorpion -- and it was on the ceiling, of all places. Didn't know those guys could do that.

  • I was pleased to see how much respect and affection the D-back announcers had for Montero. Also the the players from Arizona were so happy to have 'Miggie' back in Bank One. Also, I really like how quiet Montero' s glove is when receiving pitches. The Cubs made some exceptional signings this winter, none bigger than Montero.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    They love Montero here. I have found out that much already.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Okay, at first I didn't get why you said, "They love Montero here." Then I realized that by "here" you meant Arizona...

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    Ha! I am feeling at home already.

  • I was pleased when we got Montero. Thought he'd be a great platoon with Castillo who would learn a lot about the game from a veteran like Montero.

    I was displeased when we got Ross to displace Castillo. And Mike Moody (and others) can say that Ross was a package deal in getting Lester, but if it's really true that Lester has to have Ross, well then, my view of Lester goes down a few notches. And then after opening day we're reading about how Lester is all the sudden vulnerable to the running game. I hope Castillo catches Lester in his next start.

  • In reply to TTP:

    Then your view of Lester will have go to down a few notches. Elite free agents like Lester have something called leverage. To seal the deal against the competition the Cubs need to add Ross, it's that simple.

    I think as people praise Beef (and I like Beef too) they grossly undervalue Ross. He's a great, veteran leader and pitch framer. An excellent teammate too. He gives the Cubs a whole lot of things they're lacking and that's why he adds value to this team.

    Either way, the choices were Jon Lester plus David Ross OR no Jon Lester. I would choose as the Cubs did...Wisely...

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    We don't know those were the choices. I've heard it said many times before that one can be a leader with great qualities, but if they don't get results their voice falls on deaf ears. With that said, I know next to nothing about David Ross. I will defer to the front office. I can still have an opinion, and mine is that Montero was an absolutely necessary addition, but Ross' seems unnecessary at best.

  • In reply to RizzowiththeStick:

    If you don't know those were the choices you're not paying attention.

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    Paying attention? To whom? It's never been stated or published; Everyone assumes Lester required Ross. And yes if that's true I do think less of Lester.; makes him something of a prima donna.

    Fortunately we still have Castillo. Here too everyone assumes we still have Castillo because no on has met FO's price. But maybe the FO has kept as insurance against Ross aging in a hurry. As I said, I hope Castillo catches Lester's next start.

  • In reply to TTP:

    Well if you don’t know, then you don’t know.

    Lester is a prima donna? Get a grip. It’s called exercising his leverage and it’s how negotiations with elite athletes work. Prima donnas don’t typically sign with teams that have won 73, 66, 61, 71, and 75 games over the last 5 years.

    Lester is the exact opposite of a prima donna and he did us a huge favor by signing with the Cubs. He certainly had plenty of other seemingly more attractive options, including an offer of more money from the World Series champions. He choose to play for your favorite team. There’s no need to disparage him, though I’m pretty sure he’ll sleep well regardless.

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    Not paying attention? To what? To internet musings of those outside of the negotiations? It's all speculation. Maybe you're right, maybe you're not, but don't pretend it's more than an opinion.

  • I read and read many a commentator of this game and its particular subject we all call Cubs (or Cubdom) and there then I come across your thoughts and they are often spectacular, insightful, not self-promotion, rehash of the herds echo chamber or some other noisy waste of time. Playing this and other games decades and decades ago I can tell you that the game is played by humans, and that there are few humans that stats the which are measurable events in the game cannot capture. Miggy as Brenly called him is that kind of player. He sees the game before it is played. Don't diminish his SAC Fly, or the line drive on Sunday night when he pitch hit. Miggy is both a catcher's catcher and a manager's master sergeant on the field.

    Finally again thank you for your prose and subject matter, it is enjoyable to come here and be informed.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Thanks very much for the kind words. I almost mentioned the sac fly, which was good situational hitting on his part. That was definitely a big run.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Actually I forwarded this post to my father who is 88 and an old competitor himself. He recalled how as a 14 yr old catcher who happened to hit left handed walked up to our power pitcher (who was also the 185 # state wrestling champ a few years later and tougher than $#!^) and begin berating him for being a namby pamby on the mound, give them the high heat. Then the next game (a DH) I walked up to our lefty who was as sensitive as a past girlfriend and gave him a motherly confidence boost. On the way back the future wrestler said what the hell was that I was hoping you would give it to him, I just smiled and said the idea is to win the game, now play a flawless 1B. The stat line my Dad recalled was we won 2 games, i probably got a couple bloops and didn't throw out a runner but the pitchers produced.

  • This is off topic, but I'm really lovin' MiLB.tv right now!

  • In reply to giamby:

    Lots of baseball!

  • Very sad news today as Javier Baez's sister passed away. He's taking a leave of absence. My thoughts with him and his family.

    http://espn.go.com/blog/chicago/cubs/post/_/id/29707/chicago-cubs-prospect-javier-baez-taking-leave-of-absence

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    I heard that. Was ambivalent about posting since it is a private matter, but I am glad you brought it up. Don't know if you read what Javy wrote but it was beautiful (in Spanish).

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    No, I didn't see it. Do you have the link?

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    here is is: https://instagram.com/p/1ROcPdwRM-/

    Sorry for the late reply on that.

  • This article is precisely why I love your writing, John. As someone who discovered BP over 10 years ago, I still appreciate the soft factors sometimes. Just like players have a "feel" for the game after 25 years of watching the Cubs, I've got a feel for watching baseball games.

  • In reply to jmarsh123:

    Thanks. I like the numbers too...a lot. And I like BP, but man I miss Jason Parks there.

  • Did anyone else see the exchange between Yadi and Miggy before the last at bat. I would have enjoyed it if we could have heard what they said. It was the final at bat of the game and took one pitch.

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    I never had an issue with the Montero signing. It's the Ross signing that kinda irked me. I know he's Lesters dude, but I would hope Lester isn't that big of a prima donna where he absolutely needed Ross to be his personal babysitter.

  • In reply to Johnny Hatelak:

    Once you have Montero, Castillo's value as a short side of a platoon is minimal. Should get more in trade than he is worth in such limited play. Talking about a one win player on offense - what they lose in things like framing, and they want better pitch handling/leadership from their catchers. I think that is an easy move, actually.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yes John. And the other great thing about Montero is, that he is willing to be the vocal leader on the field and jack guys up when they need it. Yet recognizes that it wouldn't work with some of the introverted, more sensitive guys. That is the same trait that some of the all time great coaches exhibited when you get into more details of how they handled players. Lombardi, Wooden, Gable (the Iowa wrestling coach whose teams won 15 NCAA National titles in a 21 year span), were all very demanding people. Yet they all sailed it back with certain guys, despite the perception of being the same with everyone. Geno Auriema demonstrates that same trait nowadays with UCoon.
    It also seems like, by all accounts, Schwarber has those same traits, which is why it would be best if he could stick at catcher, a position from which it's easier to lead from on the field.
    The only Cub's player I can recall who had an impact on sparking and leading the team from left field was the Sarge, Gary Mathews. Loved having him on the Cubs. Still can't believe that 1984 team with talent and leaders like Sutcliffe, Mathews and Bowa, didn't at least, get to the Wotld Series. Just mind boggling.

  • Watching CJ Edwards tonight, he has tremendous stuff. Great curve ball. Might be one of the worst hitters I have ever seen though.

  • He's a terrible hitter. Ranks up there with Garza and Lester.

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    John - One of my favorite things you've written.

  • In reply to Aggravated Battery:

    Thanks, AB.

  • Hey John... since it's past the opening day.... maybe you need a new countdown - How about to the world series? :)

    Go cubs!

    Love the blog!

  • Enjoying watching the Smokies game. Schwarber would be batting 5th for the Phillies right now.
    Almora looks much more relaxed so far this year. He has a very quick bat, and of course just glides in center field.
    Another guy that has a big league swing is Rademacher.
    I also think Bruno could play in the big leagues as a backup infielder eventually, and Cervenka could be a loogy some day in the bigs, he has a solid breaking ball if he can consistently control it.

  • Time for me to read Malcolm Gladwell, his name keeps coming from good directions. Also wonder if there will one day be a longer form version of the baseball musings of one John Arguello.

  • This is a Cubs team to believe in. Scratch that this is a Cubs organization to believe in. Montero is a great example of the Cubs fine tuning the team as opposed to simply collecting young talent. I expect to win this year and I think that the Cubs do too.

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    so are you saying castillo had no chance of doing the same thing?? and if so, how was it that arrieta was so good last year with castillo ..?? this falls into the category of justifying ... you dont know what was said and you certainly dont know that that was what " straightened " him out... maybe he just settled down... like , oh, many pitchers do ! especially the first start and being a little pumped in the first inning...to act like what he said saved the game and arrieta is a guess , and nothing provable... i just dont like the condescending way you write a lot of the time ... this is conjecture at best and someone trying to prove something you cant...sorry, dont mean to be rude, just my opinion...but hey, at least you've stopped mentioning ben zobrist !! thank god lol...

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    So the interesting thing about this is that you have to finish typing and THEN post. If you were really sorry about being rude, you could have elected to not post. If you're going to come in here and act like a jerk to the site's owner, at least own it.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    how am i not owning it? and your calling me a jerk because i disagree with him ? and because i feel his writing is condescending? thats my opinion... and if the owner of the site doesnt want debate, or differing opinions, maybe he shouldnt have a comment section... if he just wants everyone to agree with him , maybe he just needs validation... and should i have said that first, and then wrote my points? lol.. what are you some sort of writing expert ?or the owners boyfriend? and yes, i'll own that...i do like some of the content posted here, but i fell the way i do about this one and about his writing... deal with it...

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    and btw, i was trying to be as polite as possible, which is why i ended with that... does that makes sense to you mike?? and btw, i think what i wrote is pretty accurate, concerning the catching situation... i noticed you didnt say a thing about that... but thanx for saying it was interesting... unlike your dribble...are you the sites bouncer?? sticking up for the owner against anyone who disagree's or , god forbide, critics?

  • A lot of people don't agree with me, but they do it with respect. Don't blame me for your issues. If you feel I am being condescending maybe you are just being insecure. If you can't generate civil discussion, perhaps that is a reflection of your own lack of social skills. If you come to me with respect, agree or disagree, then you will get respect back from me.

    We have a more civil, more respectful level of discourse here. Find another blog if you can't meet that standard.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You forgot to mention that Ben Zobrist is a nice guy who isn't rude in any way...

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Haha :) Zobrist is indeed a nice guy.

  • I know a lot more about this than you think I do. As for validation, I don't need it from you or anyone else. If you don't like it, read another blog. I'll be fine. And yes, you do mean to be rude, but it doesn't bother me, if that what floats your boat and makes you feel good about yourself, then that's what you need to do. But don't expect me to be impressed with garden variety trolling.

  • No, Arrieta himself, in post game interviews shown on Comcast, said that Montero came out and got in him about things he wasn't doing and should, like nibbling at the corners and not attacking the hitters.
    Arrieta specifically said, Montero yelled at him, tgst he needed him to do that, and that it helped him specifically, while also recognizing that the same approach wouldn't work with everyone. To which Montero said, he would handle the sensitive guys differently.

  • Wow, where is this vitriol coming from? I must have missed something.

    John: Great article as usual. Love coming on the site to read this blog...very informative, insightful, and well written...thanks.

  • In reply to Gingerbread Man:

    Thanks GB. Appreciate that. As for those comments, they pretty much came out of nowhere. Sounds like a guy with an ax to grind.

  • I have always felt the civility and respect shown on this blog is as much the foundation of this site as the content. I am always proud when readers here defend the integrity of this site, and in a way that one sometimes feels sorry for the offending tool who occasionally stumbles into our family. You guys are the best.

  • In reply to spider lockhart:

    Agreed. And thanks. I think this comment section is what makes it a lot of fun to talk Cubs. Always seems to me that the loudest, rudest people have the least to say and just want to make everything about themselves. Thankfully we have had very few of those kind of rude commenters here over the years. The regular commenters here are great -- and they don't all always agree with each other (or with me, for that matter).

  • I absolutely 'get' why the Cubs went out and got Montero,....

    Am still floored as to why they 'had' to get Ross,.... and yes - at some level I understand the argument that he & Lester were sort-of a package.

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