We all know that the Yankees’ rotation could use a lift. Everyone is eagerly awaiting the return of Luis Severino, and rightfully so. However, there’s another arm on the mend: Jordan Montgomery. It’s been a long road, but the southpaw appears to be on track to return next month after a 15 month hiatus due to Tommy John surgery. As much as the Yankees could use the help, it might be too much to thrust him into the rotation immediately.
Montgomery made his first rehab start last weekend and felt good thereafter. Next, he’s expected to pitch with Double-A Trenton. The Yankees can keep Montgomery on this assignment for up to 30 days, though that timeline isn’t definite. For one, the Yankees are permitted to extend the assignment because its Tommy John recovery. Additionally, the minor league season ends very soon which could throw a wrench into plans. Complications aside, let’s just assume that Montgomery is able to return in September. What should we expect?
First and foremost, we can’t just pencil Montgomery into the rotation. The timing might not work out, leaving him as a relief option only. And, though he looks like a solid back of the rotation arm, it’s hard to imagine him being of much use as a reliever. The Yankees badly need help in the fourth and fifth starter spots, but not to the extent that Montgomery should be hurried along. The division lead is too big and assuming Severino gets back, the Yankees postseason rotation will be set anyway. It might be nice to let J-Mo start a meaningless game once everything is clinched, but that’s neither here nor there.
It’s not like the Yankees can just “set it and forget it” anyway. Montgomery returning to his pre-surgery form immediately is uncertain. Jeff Zimmerman and Brian Cartwright did some good research on this subject for The Hardball Times. They found that a pitcher’s first season back from surgery is their worst in terms of major stats like ERA, strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed. Depending on the stat, pitchers perform between 4.4 and 7.2 percent worse than projections. Speaking of projections, let’s take a glance at a few:
Those forecasts are pretty pessimistic in the first place, as Montgomery has a 3.84 ERA and 4.09 FIP in over 180 big league innings. Not all of those projections are aware that Montgomery had surgery, too. I know for sure that PECOTA doesn’t account for it, though it’s not clear for ZiPS or Steamer. Either way, if Montgomery were to follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned research, he wouldn’t be much of a help in the rotation anyway. And that’s ignoring all of the obstacles he still faces just to get back to the mound.
Performance aside, we shouldn’t expect Montgomery to regain his velocity. It’s a myth that pitchers throw harder after having their UCL repaired. Per the same HBT article, the typical pitcher actually loses a very small amount of velocity in year one of returning. The 26 year-old isn’t known for being a hard thrower anyway, but it’s worth noting.
Clearly, we can be pretty doubtful of Montgomery having any impact in 2019. But what about the future? Well, even if he pitches in the majors this year, 2020 is still essentially year one of his return. And based on the research, things don’t bode particularly well for Montgomery. He’s not someone I’d be confident having break camp in the rotation next spring.
Jon Rogele, who documents each and every Tommy John surgery, also has interesting findings on pitcher recovery. Within Montgomery’s age rage (24 – 27), Rogele found that the median pitcher post-repair appears in 70 games and 137 innings through the rest of one’s career. That’s not exactly the most hopeful sounding news for Montgomery. Interestingly though, there’s a bit more upside if a pitcher’s recovery time is between 14 and 20 months, which Montgomery currently sits. We’re talking about as many as 129 appearances and 254 innings pitched.
Given the information available, the odds of Montgomery sustaining a long and effective career seem low. It’s a bit of a bummer considering the promise he showed as a high floor starter when he first donned pinstripes, but not all hope is lost yet. Now, I wouldn’t count on anything this season, and not because of the research out there. There’s just not a enough time to get him fully back.