Starting pitching was supposed to be one of the Yankees’ biggest strengths this season. Adding Gerrit Cole into the mix with Luis Severino, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka made for a formidable staff in the winter. Now, with Sevy out for the season and Paxton still searching for his best fastball, the Yankees rotation looks a little thinner than expected. That’s where Jordan Montgomery comes in. He was a bit of a wild card entering 2020, but he’s delivered so far.
There was some uncertainty about Montgomery’s rotation status way back in February. He may have been the odd man out with the rotation at full strength. Perhaps some time in Triple-A would do him good as he regains familiarity with starting every fifth day after missing most of 2018 and 2019 because of Tommy John surgery. But with injuries and COVID-19, Monty was thrust right into the heart of the Bombers’ staff. Seemingly out of nowhere, he’s added velocity on his fastball and sinker and is inducing soft contact like never before. It’s just what the Yankees needed.
At first glance, Montgomery’s stat line doesn’t impress. A 4.66 ERA isn’t anything to write home about, you know. But that’s somewhat inflated because of one bad start in Philadelphia. That game counts of course, but for the most part, the 27 year-old southpaw has gotten the job done. He was really good again last night before the rain came. Monty’s starting to look like someone the team can count on in the middle of the rotation. I know we should be careful in making sweeping conclusions after just 19 1/3 innings, but he looks like a different pitcher than when he first surfaced.
When I say that he looks like a different pitcher than before, that isn’t to be dismissive of his past. I think we forget that Montgomery was quite good as a rookie in 2017. In 29 starts, he recorded a 3.88 ERA and 4.07 FIP in 155 1/3 innings. Those ERA and FIP marks were roughly 10 percent better than league average. The difference this year is that he may have uncovered a more sustainable approach for a pitcher who’s not overpowering, even though he’s throwing harder.
There’s been a bit of talk about Montgomery’s velocity uptick since spring training, though we haven’t gotten to see radar gun readings until recently. We now know that Montgomery’s added roughly 1 MPH to his fastball and sinker. Instead of sitting a hair under 92, he now averages just under 93. Monty can also reach back for a bit more: he’s touched 95 this season and has thrown 7 pitches above 94 MPH thus far. For reference, he’d thrown just 20 pitches 94 or greater prior to this season. There’s clearly more in the tank. That may be a credit to having a repaired UCL.
But for all the velocity talk, Montgomery has really shined this season is soft contact.
|Hard Hit %||61st||68th|
This is straight out of CC Sabathia’s playbook. The largely unchanged xwOBA is a little weird considering all of the other inputs, but I wouldn’t make much of it. Montgomery’s batted ball profile looks even better too:
|Batted Ball Type %||2017||2020|
More grounders and pop ups will always play.
Perhaps some of the added velocity has contributed to weaker contact this season. I can’t imagine going from 92 to 93 would make this big of a difference, though. A change in pitch mix probably has done more for him.
|Pitch Type %||2017||2020|
The tall lefty has basically swapped the usage of his curveball and changeup. He’s also eschewed his slider in favor of a cutter. I’m curious about this cutter — it’s the pitch that Sabathia thrived on late in his career — but it’s probably too soon to make much of. It’s coming in at 89.6 MPH and could just be a harder version of his old slider (85.7). He’s also thrown all 27 of his cutters to righties, whereas he offered his slider to both righties and lefties in the past. The pitch is definitely something to keep an eye on though.
In the span of a few months, Montgomery has gone from the potential odd man out to a key figure in the rotation. More velocity has likely helped, but the frequency of weak contact against has really helped him handle opposing lineups this far. If this keeps up, Monty will make playoff starts for the Yankees. That would have been a concerning thought a few months ago, but now, we might welcome it.