New manager, Charlie Montoyo has the Toronto Blue Jays trying new things with their defensive positioning
Bryce Harper made his long awaited Grapefruit League debut on March 9th against the Blue Jays after signing a monster, 13 year, $330 million dollar deal with the Philadelphia Phillies on February 28. Jays’ bench boss Charlie Montoyo had said he might go with a four man outfield for Harper’s at bats. He did not disappoint. Harper had two plate appearances and Montoyo went with the same defensive alignment for both. 3B Eric Sogard moved to LF, LF Teoscar Hernandez moved to left-centre, CF Kevin Pillar moved to right-centre shifting RF Anthony Alford closer to the right field foul line. The three remaining infielders were positioned on the right ride of second.
The result? Inconclusive. Starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker who owns a very fine career walk percentage of 5.7 was uncharacteristically wild, walking four in his 3 innings of work, including Harper both times he was up. If nothing else, it would have been fun to see what would happen had he put a ball in play. Would the strategy have paid off? Maybe he would have crossed up the defence by hitting a ball to the left side of the infield. We’ll never know.
At least not this time.
Montoyo deserves high marks for trying something different, especially during an exhibition game. If it had worked, he looks like a genius. If it backfired, no harm done, the games don’t count anyway. It will be very interesting to see if Montoyo gives this another try in other spring training games and even during the regular season when he thinks the situation calls for it.
Harper has a reputation for being a masher which is certainly deserved to a point. He had a monster season in 2015 with 38 doubles and leading the NL with 42 HRs, a .460 OBP, .649 slugging % and a 1.109 OPS. No surprise that he was named the NL MVP that season. So what exactly is the purpose behind a four man outfield? Is the hope that fielders are athletic enough to jump and take would be home runs away from sluggers (something that Kevin Pillar, for one, has done on a number of occasions)? Or is it more likely to give fly balls that don’t go over the fence a better chance of being caught? Not at all to suggest that Montoyo didn’t look at all available statistics, but as it turns out Harper was 50th in MLB in 2018 with a 38% fly ball hit percentage. The hitter who led all of MLB in FB% in 2018 was none other than Harper’s Phillies teammate Rhys Hoskins at 51.7%. Hoskins was hitting cleanup on Saturday and went deep – and I mean really deep – with Harper on to open the scoring at 2-0. A four man outfield would have accomplished nothing against Hoskins in that at bat anyway, the only people with a chance to catch that ball were the fans in the upper rows of the section he hit it to. But something to consider in future.
Montoyo comes to the Jays after 21 years in the Tampa Bay Rays organization – 18 as a MiLB manager and 3 as an MLB coach. One of the things that the Rays organization is known for is getting maximum results from the talent that they have to work with. Due to financial constraints, the Rays part ways with established star players but still manage to exceed expectations much of the time with younger, lesser known talent. 2018 was no exception as Tampa traded away Evan Longoria (Dec 20, 2017), Jake Odorizzi, Steven Souza jr, Corey Dickerson, Alex Colome, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Archer, and still managed to finish the season 90-72, in third place in the AL East division. The willingness to use “outside of the box” strategies to gain an advantage is one of the positives that Montoyo brings to the Jays as skipper. It is one of the reasons the Jays will be exciting to watch in 2019.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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