Luke Montz gets the nod

By Jason Wojciechowski on May 3, 2013 at 12:06 AM

Here is our mission, should we choose to accept it: make sense of the A's roster.

Coco Crisp hit the disabled list, as is his wont, so to replace him, the A's did the obvious thing and pulled up Michael Taylor, a backup outfielder, one who has been up and down with Oakland the last couple of years, who probably won't get many/any starts, but who can be a competent backup in the corners and maybe take a whack at a lefty now and again.

Wait, what? They didn't do that? They reached off the 40-man roster and spent the spot vacated by Casper Wells on Luke Montz, a Triple-A journeyman signed as a minor-league free agent this offseason who doesn't really play the outfield? O--okay.

Let's just build the lineups and see where this takes us:

v. RHP

C: Jaso
1B: Moss
2B: Sogard
SS: Lowrie
3B: Donaldson
LF: Cespedes
CF: Young
RF: Reddick
DH: Smith


C: Norris
LF: Smith
CF: Cespedes
RF: Reddick
DH: Jaso

Those are really your two options. The first lineup is stronger defensively in the outfield but suffers John Jaso's clownery behind the plate. The second has Cespedes in center and Smith in left, but allows Derek Norris's crazy on-base skills to be in the lineup and also solidifies the catching (and throwing and framing and everything else that comes with catching).

v. LHP

C: Norris
1B/DH: Freiman? Montz? Moss?
2B/SS: Rosales/Lowrie
3B: Donaldson
LF: Cespedes
CF: Young
RF: Reddick

Second and shortstop are apparently going to involve Adam Rosales being considered the stronger defender and thus playing short while Lowrie toggles back and forth between short and second, as was promised all along in the spring after he was acquired in a trade anyway.

The harder question is first and designated hitter. I'm not going to insult you by quoting Brandon Moss's platoon splits over his time with the A's (i.e. the time he's been good) because it would be a small sample one way or another, and it's an even smaller sample because Melvin has kept him away from lefties to a large degree. Does that mean that with two right-handed 1B/DH types on hand, Moss will sit versus lefties for as long as Montz is on the roster? Two responses:

  1. If that's not what that means, then why is Montz here? What's the point of being on the roster at all, given that Freiman is already around and apparently here to stay, surviving where Casper the Friendly Wells could not, if he's not going to push Moss to the bench against lefties? Prior to Montz's arrival, the A's had faced seven lefty starters and Moss had started in five of those games. This is not necessarily ideal and, with Montz around, it does not have to continue.
  2. Montz's first day on the roster, May 1, saw the A's facing C.J. Wilson, a lefty, and Melvin went with Nate Freiman at first and Montz DHing. The A's under Melvin like to get a newly called-up player a start immediately, so perhaps this was just a happy coincidence, but it may also be a sign that Moss won't play much as the A's face a slew of lefties over the next two weeks.

As to (2), though, that great number of lefties, which is reportedly what caused the A's to call up Montz over Stephen Vogt, who is ripping Sacramento apart with his bare hands but is left-handed, cuts both ways. Will Melvin play his fourth-best hitter (by True Average, behind Lowrie, Crisp, and Cespedes, which really means he's third because Crisp isn't around for a bit) only half-time because they're facing lefties that often? Or will he be tempted to throw Moss in there out of a sense that Moss should be starting 75 or 80 percent of the games?

Now here's the question: Montz over Taylor. The latter can DH just as well as the former can, it requiring little in the way of defensive skill. Taylor also shores up the outfield a bit -- look at that lineup against righties and note that if, say, Cespedes tweaked his ankle, the A's are down to sticking Adam Rosales into the pasture. Maybe that's not the worst thing in the world, since that's what Adam Rosales is for, but I'd, personally, rather have a real outfielder backing up the outfielders.

On the other hand, if you run with the Jaso/Norris lineup against righties because Norris is thriving and plays good defense and Chris Young couldn't hit Vladimir Putin if he was standing right in front of him right now, much less a baseball traveling 90 miles per hour, then a Norris injury leaves the team giving up the designated hitter. Montz being on the roster negates that possibility.

This means we're balancing the odds an outfielder gets hurt times the negative value of Adam Rosales in the outfield against the odds Derek Norris gets hurt times the negative value of pitchers batting for a few innings. Which really means we're comparing epsilons and what this all boils down to is that the A's probably like Luke Montz as a hitter against lefties more than they like Michael Taylor as a hitter against lefties at this moment.

That decision, coming based on tons of scouting and psychological (such as it is -- I really mean coaches passing up reports) data and only some small amount of information that we can actually get our hands on, is hard to criticize. Montz is a year older than Taylor, which means the two are both quite advanced aged-wise for minor-league players, and both hit well last year, albeit in different ways: Montz for power and no OBP, Taylor for OBP and unimpressive (for a corner outfielder in the Pacific Coast League) power.

On many teams, this move, the "who's going to be our 25th man?" decision, wouldn't matter. You're not going to see that guy play much over the time it takes for the injured player to get healthy. The A's, though, via Billy Beane's organizational construction and Bob Melvin's willingness to juggle player after player, use all 25 spots. When you look at their 13 positions players, there's no utility man or fifth outfielder: every single player is either a full-time starter or a platoon-starter. (Assuming that Montz is, in fact, a platoon starter.) Nate Freiman doesn't seem like he's gotten much run, as you'd expect from a Rule 5 pick, but he has made seven starts (25 percent, basically) and has been in the starting lineup against seven of the eight left-handed starting pitchers the team has faced. (He sat against Jason Vargas on April 11th and started against Brad Peacock on April 5th.) Everybody plays. Everybody has to contribute. On this team, every move matters.