Tactical moves pay off for Blue Jays’ Montoyo this season

Even four years after Charlie Montoyo was manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, he remains a figure whose approval rating among the fan base fluctuates wildly from week to week.

While Montoyo tends to get credit for creating a calm and positive atmosphere around his team, he also gets criticism for not being upbeat enough and his in-game tactics are heavily scrutinized.

Some of that scrutiny has been warranted, but considering he’s led his team to a solid 161-128 record since early 2020 with two top-four finishes in AL Manager of the Year voting, the benefit of doubt has proved elusive for 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 odd mistake he made in the game. The problem with that argument is that it pits something intangible and unverifiable against a highly visible phenomenon. That’s not a good way to make someone question his background.

More recently, however, the debate over Montoyo’s value need not reside solely along the lines of tangibles versus intangibles. That’s because there’s solid evidence that the Blue Jays’ on-field tactics have improved this season in multiple areas:

Changing

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

Because it’s easier to see the base hits that occur due to the change than the possible hits eliminated, it’s natural to conclude that the Blue Jays are overdoing it. The fact that they are an outlier in the entire league is another indication that they might not be on the right track.

That said, it looks like Toronto’s at-bats take far more hits than they give up. The opposing team’s BABIP with no at-bats sits at .326 while that number sits at .284 when there is any sort of at-bat.

There are many things that go into change, but they are firmly under the umbrella of “on-the-field tactics,” which is the domain of a manager.

Avoiding the tricks

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

Early in Montoyo’s tenure, he was infamous for his tendency to call for bunts, a rate that was 89 percent above the league average in 2020. Fortunately for the Blue Jays, the patron’s enthusiasm for the sacrifice has cooled in the last years.

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

On the intentional walking front, Montoyo has also cut back significantly. In his first two years as coach, his IBB rating was 37 percent and 32 percent above the league average. This season, only three teams called fewer intentional walks than the Blue Jays.

Use of the bullpen

This one is hard to quantify, but it’s worth remembering how much criticism Montoyo got for running his bullpen in 2021 and how little he got this year, aside from a single hard-to-justify decision not to use Jordan Romano in May.

While the quality of relief talent on a team is often the biggest indicator of how their manager will rate in managing the bullpen, Montoyo deserves credit for properly allocating high-leverage innings.

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


I could argue with Yimi Garcia vs. Adam Cimber if I wanted to, but this is pretty much the order I’d want. Montoyo drew criticism for trusting Thornton too much in 2021, but that has not been the case this year despite Thornton’s better performance.

More than anything, a manager’s bullpen management is often better when it’s not constantly noticeable. Montoyo has rarely been notable this year, unlike last season when Tyler Chatwood, Rafael Dolis and Anthony Castro had three of the top five ALI marks among Blue Jays relievers.

challenges

Deciding what to challenge and what to leave alone is not Montoyo’s exclusive domain, but he is making the final decisions, and so far in 2022 those decisions have been excellent.

Going into this season, the Blue Jays captain was successful in 34.4 per cent of his challenges when the league average has tended to hover around 45 per cent during that time. This season, he flipped the script and met his challenges at a 55 percent rate.

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

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

For those firmly entrenched in the anti-Montoyo camp, the above evidence is probably not 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 it did in the past.

This team has clearly improved in that area, and it seems less of a Montoyo weakness than it has in the past.

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