A Refresher on Jordan Montgomery, 2017’s Best Rookie Pitcher

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After more than 16 months away from the Yankees, Jordan Montgomery will finally return to a Major League mound tomorrow. The 26-year-old lefty was quite effective as a rookie in 2017 and he made a handful of starts last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery last June.

It’s yet unknown in what capacity we’ll see Montgomery tomorrow, but we do know, thanks to James Wagner of The New York Times, that we will see him. It’s obviously been a while, so I think a refresher is in order. Let’s go through his one and (and one month) MLB season and give a quick primer on his stuff for those of us who may have forgotten.

A Promising Debut Campaign

He’s been away from the team for so long that you’d be excused if you forgot about his contributions to the 2017 team, but Montgomery was a reason why the Yankees ranked 2nd in FanGraphs pitching WAR that year. He went just 9-7, but he posted a 3.88 ERA (4.07 FIP) in 155.1 innings pitched while striking out 22% of batters faced and walking just 7.9%.

That all added up to him the best rookie pitcher in the league, believe it or not. Here is the FanGraphs pitching WAR leaderboard that year:

  1. Jordan Montgomery, NYY: 2.6
  2. Trevor Williams, PIT: 2.5
  3. German Marquez, COL: 2.4
  4. Chad Green, NYY: 2.4
  5. Kyle Freeland, COL: 2.0

Pretty cool! For what it’s worth, Baseball-Reference’s WAR (which tends to focus more on actual results more than “expected” results based on peripherals), also thought highly of him. He was good, dependable, and showed signs that he could be a reliable piece in a contending team’s starting rotation. I know I was excited to see him try to build on that success in 2018. I imagine you were, too.

A Too-Quick Sophomore Campaign

The follow-up campaign, however, was unfortunately cut short during a May 1 start at Houston. (Side note: what a fun series that was, this injury aside. That featured the Gary HR in the 9th that made Giles hit himself in the face and the Severino complete game shut out. Awesome.) Even still, in limited action, Montgomery continued what he had started in his rookie year.

He pitched to a 3.62 ERA (4.22 FIP) in just 27.1 innings, although he had a slightly lower strikeout rate (19%) and much higher walk rate (10%) than the year prior. He made just 6 starts before being shelved, and we haven’t seen him since. Baseball is a tough game.

It was a blow for the Yankees last year, too. I think people forget that Montgomery really did look like a solid rotation piece before the injury. The 2018 Yankees lost him almost immediately and never got him back. But more importantly, the injury also cost Montgomery his age-25 and age-26 seasons, which will significantly cut into his MLB earnings. Baseball is a tough sometimes.

A Primer on His Stuff

Montgomery doesn’t rely on overpowering stuff to blow hitters away. His spin rate is nothing remarkable, so there likely aren’t any “this fastball plays up” dynamics going on here, either. Here is his velocity graph, month-by-month throughout 2017 and 2018:

He sits low-90s with his fastball and sinker (and they got slower as the months went on) but utilizes five pitches–and he really utilizes them. That’s how he finds success. Check out the usage graph, this time just for 2017:

That’s pretty clustered right there. He really mixes it up well, and he most certainly does not rely on his four-seam fastball to find success. Here is his overall pitch usage for the entire season:

  • Four-Seam Fastball: 18.43%
  • Sinker: 23.41%
  • Curveball: 26.07%
  • Slider: 12.90%
  • Changeup: 19.19%

Yeah. That’s a lot of variance right there. He uses a fastball (his four-seam and sinker) under 50% of the time and his most common pitch is his curveball. That’s really the Yankees’ anti-fastball approach to a T right there, folks. And it’s not difficult to see why he relies so much on the curveball. Check out some key indicators against the pitch:

2017

  • Batting Average: .175
  • SLG: .281
  • wOBA: .217
  • Avg. Exit Velo: 85.2 mph

2018

  • Batting Average: .147
  • SLG: .235
  • wOBA: .178
  • Avg. Exit Velo: 85.5 mph

That’s a solid pitch right there. Moreover, he threw about 800 of them across both seasons and surrendered just 5 home runs on the pitch. Batters clearly have a difficult time squaring it up and elevating it. It does make sense he’d use it so much, doesn’t it?

Hopefully, it maintains its effectiveness after Tommy John, because Montgomery really relies on the pitch to be effective. His other pitches (particularly the slider) were also useful, but the curveball is clearly the money pitch here.

Outlook

I really don’t think we can expect Montgomery to be a factor for 2019 at all, honestly. There’s almost no chance he will make the postseason roster–if he does, something has gone catastrophically wrong–and he really shouldn’t. He’s missed almost two years and will have only a few MLB appearances this year. That’s okay, though.

Montgomery really had to battle to get back, and I’m sure it’s been a long, arduous, and frustrating two years for a kid hoping to make his mark on a contending MLB team. It will be great to see him back on the mound again and begin to lay the foundation for what will hopefully be a successful 2020 season.

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3 Comments

  1. chip56

    Hey guys, now that the MiLB season is over for the Yanks, it would be awesome if you did a Stock Up/Stock Down look at the Top 50 guys.

    • Bobby

      Great minds thinks alike! That’s something we’re planning on doing, or at least along those lines. Stay tuned

  2. CountryClub

    It’s good that he made it back this year and will get his feet wet again. He then gets a regular off season and should play a significant role next year. In a perfect world, he’ll fall somewhere between 4 – 6 on their 2020 starter depth chart.

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