Playing Jesus Montero a win in two ways

September, 24, 2011
9/24/11
9:30
PM ET
On Saturday, rookie designated hitter Jesus Montero was a significant reason why the Yankees defeated Jon Lester and the Red Sox 9-1, going 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs. From the moment Montero was called up this season, he has been an impact-level contributor, representing a win for the Yankees in a number of ways.

First and perhaps most obviously, Montero has been the Yankees’ best performer since his call-up on Sept. 1, suggesting that his underwhelming numbers from the minor leagues this season (.814 OPS at Triple-A) might not be a significant concern for his long-term future.

Since Sept. 1, Montero is hitting .346/.414/.635 with four home runs. Performance of that caliber is not likely to continue in the long-term -- he’s posted a .438 batting average on balls in play and a 27.8 percent line-drive rate, both of which would lead MLB, so they’re essentially unsustainable. However, it is reasonable to expect he will continue to represent an upgrade on what the team had received from its designated hitters to this point. Specifically, Montero has already outproduced Jorge Posada despite more than 300 fewer plate-appearances.

Despite about one-seventh of the total playing time, Montero has produced an additional 0.7 Wins Above Replacement compared to Posada. So in that sense Montero’s production represents a win for the Yankees in that he’s producing in general and he’s represented a significant upgrade for a position that had plagued the Yankees’ offense for much of this season.

However, this also represents a big win for the Yankees in the sense that Montero is still on the team. Don’t forget, back in early July of last season, the Yankees nearly traded Montero to the Seattle Mariners for Cliff Lee. However, the Mariners opted for the Texas Rangers’ offer that included Justin Smoak.

[+] EnlargeJesus Montero
AP Photo/Bill KostrounDesignated hitter Jesus Montero hit his fourth home run of the season Saturday.
While there was noticeable controversy around those trade negotiations at the time, it appears as though GM Brian Cashman’s words from earlier this week are ringing true through the early portion of the respective careers of Montero and Smoak. Cashman stated, “I wanted Lee badly enough to move Montero. You take all the players traded when Lee went from Cleveland to Philly, Philly to Seattle, and Seattle to Texas, and Montero would've been by far the best player moved in any of those deals. ... But now I'm just happy fans have had a chance to get a better feel of why I was hesitant to make that deal.”

Montero has thrived in the early going, while Smoak has largely disappointed. Despite more than 800 fewer plate appearances, Montero has nearly outproduced Smoak in terms of Wins Above Replacement; while Montero has been red-hot of late, Smoak is batting just .194/.268/.265 since June 24. As a result, Smoak has been among the worst players in baseball since the start of last season: In his 871 plate appearances, Smoak has produced 0.5 Wins Above Replacement. Among players with at least 800 plate PAs since the start of the 2010 season, Smoak’s .703 OPS ranks 160th out of 195 qualifying batters, and his 0.5 WAR ranks among the least productive, with just five players doing worse: Chone Figgins (-0.1), Orlando Cabrera (0.1), Adam Lind (0.1), Ryan Theriot (0.3) and Raul Ibanez (0.4).

Considering that the age of both players -- Montero is in his age-21 season, while Smoak in his age-24 campaign -- leaves plenty of room for analysis and judgment, the Mariners’ decision to take Smoak over Montero to this point looks like a mistake.

However, the more relevant angle over the course of the next month could be that the Yankees didn’t move Montero last season and, thus, have an impact bat to DH for them entering the postseason -- and that Montero might just live up to all the hype after all.

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