Tactical moves paying off for Blue Jays’ Montoyo this season

Even four years into Charlie Montoyo’s tenure as Toronto Blue Jays manager, he remains a figure whose approval rating with the fanbase swings wildly from week to week.

While Montoyo tends to be credited with creating a calm and positive atmosphere around his team, he is also criticized for not being lively enough and his in-game tactics are closely watched.

Some of that scrutiny was warranted, but considering he’s led his team to a solid 161-128 record since the start of 2020 with two top-four finishes in AL Manager of the Year voting, the benefit of the doubt proved elusive to him.

For those who have questioned Montoyo’s tactical acumen, the rebuttal has often been that what he did to keep the team on track overshadowed the game’s strange error. The problem with this argument is that he opposes something intangible and unverifiable to a highly visible phenomenon. This is not a good way to make someone question their background.

More recently, however, the Montoyo value debate need not reside solely between tangible and intangible. That’s because there’s strong evidence that the Blue Jays’ on-field tactics have improved this season in several areas:

Shift

No team has changed as much as the Blue Jays this season, who have moved out of a traditional defensive lineup 64% of the time. This included a variety of positioning structures, including a heavy dose of four-man outfield.

Because it’s easier to see the hits happening because of the change than the potential hits taken out, it’s natural to conclude that the Blue Jays are overdoing it. The fact that they are a league-wide outlier is another indication that they may not be on the right track.

That said, there’s every indication that Toronto’s shifts are taking away far more hits than they’re conceding. The team’s BABIP against with no change sits at 0.326 while that number sits at 0.284 when there is some kind of change.

There’s a lot that goes into change, but it’s firmly under the umbrella of ‘field tactics’, which is a manager’s domain.

Avoid gimmicks

There’s a time and a place for every baseball game under the sun, but it’s widely accepted that giving away free outs and free bases is bad for business.

Early in Montoyo’s tenure, he was infamous for his tendency to claim cavities — a rate that was 89% above the league average as recently as 2020. Fortunately for the Blue Jays, the enthusiasm of the skipper for the sacrifice has cooled off in recent years.

This season, only six teams have attempted fewer bunts than Toronto, and the only Blue Jays to attempt sack bunts in 2022 are Taylor Heinemann, Bradley Zimmer, Gosuke Katoh and Raimel Tapia – a quartet for whom the decision is more justifiable.

On the intentional walk front, Montoyo has cut back considerably as well. In his first two years as manager, his BWI rate was 37% and 32% above the league average. This season, only three teams have claimed fewer intentional walks than the Blue Jays.

Use of the enclosure

This one’s hard to quantify, but it’s worth remembering how much criticism Montoyo has come under for running his bullpen in 2021 and how little he’s received this year – outside of just one tough call. justify not using Jordan Romano in May.

While the quality of relief talent on a team is often the biggest predictor of how its manager will be rated on bullpen management, Montoyo deserves credit for correctly dispatching high-impact innings. the sink.

Below is a list of all Blue Jays relievers who pitched at least 10 innings in 2022 by average leverage rating.


You could quibble with Yimi Garcia vs. Adam Cimber if you were so inclined, but that’s about the order you’d want. Montoyo took some heat for giving Thornton overconfidence in 2021, but that hasn’t been the case this year despite Thornton’s improved performance.

More than anything, managing a manager’s bullpen is usually at its best when it’s not always noticeable. Montoyo has rarely been outstanding this year, unlike last season when Tyler Chatwood, Rafael Dolis and Anthony Castro had three of the top five ALI ratings among Blue Jays relievers.

Challenges

Deciding what to challenge and what to leave alone isn’t Montoyo’s domain alone, but he makes the final calls – and so far in 2022, those calls have been excellent.

Heading into this season, the Blue Jays skipper has completed 34.4% of his challenges while the league average has tended to hover around 45% during this period. This season, he flipped the script by completing his challenges at a 55% clip.

Montoyo has already had more calls overturned in 2022 (11) than in 2021 (nine), and only two MLB bench chiefs have had more games overturned this year.

We’re dealing with small sample sizes here, but the difference in the Blue Jays’ decision-making on challenges is too big to ignore.

For those firmly entrenched in the anti-Montoyo camp, the above evidence is unlikely to be enough to change hearts and minds. But it’s still worth acknowledging that criticizing the Blue Jays’ on-field tactics means something different in 2022 than in the past.

This team has clearly improved in this area, and it feels less like one of Montoyo’s weaknesses than in the past.

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