Outfield positioning a focus for Montoyo

New Blue Jays skipper wants his outfielders playing deeper

March 15th, 2019

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Charlie Montoyo believes he discovered a flaw in the Blue Jays' defense last season: The outfielders were playing too shallow.

Toronto's first-year manager spent a lot of time watching the Blue Jays last season when he was the bench coach for the division-rival Rays. During his time scouting across the field, he felt that the outfielders were leaving themselves exposed to extra-base hits.

"In my opinion, they were," Montoyo said when asked if Toronto's outfielders were playing too shallow in 2018. "When we played against the Blue Jays, I saw that. I don’t know how many doubles and triples they gave up, but coming in, I knew I didn’t want that. I wanted our outfielders to play deep."

The Blue Jays' pitching staff was tied for most doubles allowed in the Major Leagues last season with 325. Toronto also was tied for the ninth-most triples allowed with 32. Those are the types of hits that Montoyo wants to turn into singles.

The Blue Jays were in the middle of the pack last season in outfield depth when compared to the rest of the league. According to Baseball Savant, Toronto's left fielders ranked 16th with an average depth of 296 feet, center fielders ranked 15th at 319 feet and right fielders ranked tied for 23rd at 292 feet.

With 81 games at Rogers Centre, there could be a ballpark factor to the numbers, but the road data tells a pretty similar story as well. Away from home, the left fielders ranked 18th at 294 feet, center field ranked tied for 20th at 317 feet and right field ranked pretty far down the list at the 27th spot and 291 feet.

Montoyo said he was the one who came up with the idea of positioning his outfielders deeper in the field. It was a philosophy he brought over from the Rays, even though the numbers show Tampa Bay played, on average, one foot shallower in both the corner outfield spots on the road. It's worth noting the average depth does not factor specific situations or vs. specific types of hitters.

"From experience, working with the Rays, that’s what they do," Montoyo said when asked where the idea comes from. "I saw how it works. You won’t see that many doubles and triples against us, so we’d rather give up singles than doubles and triples. At the end of the day, that saves more runs. I saw that work and that’s what we’re going to do here."

The Blue Jays' front office hasn't changed since last season, which begs the question: If the data backs it up, why weren't some of these adjustments made before? Why wait until a new coaching staff was unveiled in 2019 instead of putting this information in the hands of former manager John Gibbons and making him use it?

Toronto general manager Ross Atkins said that's not something the Blue Jays' front office was prepared to do last season, and the club is also still in the phase of experimenting with the idea. Even if the club believes it's likely the positioning will lead to fewer extra-base hits, it's still not entirely convinced.

"Everything is gradual," Atkins said. "Every decision. It’s not a matter of mandating something and determining that this is ultimately right. Ultimately suggesting that playing deeper is best, we don’t know to be certain. So that’s the beauty of baseball. We use a collective group to help inform and help Charlie and others make good decisions, and we’ll continue to do that."