The uncertainty of the New York Yankees‘ starting rotation is clear. Gerrit Cole brought stability to the top in 2020, and he will do so again in 2021. After that, they are relying on youth and risk to carry them to the World Series.
Among the handful of names that are expected to fill out the rotation, only one of them has a season with 150 innings pitched in their career and made more than five starts in 2020. That man is Jordan Montgomery.
In December, manager Aaron Boone spoke of his excitement for the younger pitchers to follow Cole, and Montgomery, 28, is certainly in that mix. Although he is now four years removed from a 2017 where he pitched to a 3.88 ERA and finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting, he is also three years removed from the Tommy John surgery that hindered his development in 2018 and 2019.
On the surface, Montgomery did not have a great 2020 season. He started 10 games, posting a 2-3 record with a 5.11 ERA and 84 ERA+ in 44 innings pitched. Still, some of the peripherals were good, and they indicate that Montgomery can pitch effectively behind Cole and newly-signed-bounce-back candidate Corey Kluber.
What Went Well
Yes, the sample is small, but Montgomery excelled at inducing weak contact and limiting free passes in 2020. In fact, he was one of the best in MLB in those categories. His opponents’ average exit velocity of 84.6 mph was in the top-5% of the league. Additionally, his hard hit percentage was in the top-12%.
He utilized four of his five pitches in a fairly equal distribution. His two-seam fastball was his most-used pitch in 2020 at 26.6% while his four-seam fastball was his fourth-most used pitch at 19%. He used his changeup 25.6% and his curveball 22.1% of the time.
He knows how to use his diverse pitch mix and combines it with good knowledge of the strike zone. This is illustrated by his walk rate of 4.7%, which was top-8% in the league. That is also why his WHIP of 1.250 for the season is more respectable than his ERA.
Looking back at 2017, his lone full season not counting the abbreviated 2020, these numbers are also strengths of his. They are not as good as they were for 10 starts in 2020, but he was still above average at inducing weak contact and limiting his walks. He did struggle at keeping the ball off of the barrel, where his barrel rate was in the 44th percentile. Regardless, he posted an above average showing in terms of limiting hard contact.
For someone who does not throw hard, such as Montgomery, these are reassuring to Boone and general manager Brian Cashman as they piece together the Yankees’ starting rotation. Additionally, they indicate that bad luck was part of the problem for Montgomery in 2020. His xERA was 3.86, showing that his actual ERA was much worse than expected.
Although missing barrels is Montgomery’s game plan, he also missed bats in 2020. He struck out 47 batters in 44 innings pitched, for a K/9 of 9.6, and his WHIF% was above average. That is fairly consistent with his 2017 season where he had an above average WHIF% and a K/9 of 8.3.
The two pitches that miss bats the most are his curveball and changeup. He manages to take roughly 7-10 mph off on those pitches to catch batters off balance after setting them up with his fastball. Coming up through MiLB, his fading changeup was considered his best pitch. While it has still been effective for him with WHIF%s of 38.5 and 29.6 in 2020 and 2017, his curveball has been his best pitch for missing bats. The pitch was up there with the changeup at 35.3% in 2020 and was his best swing-and-miss offering in 2017 at 42.8%.
Don’t expect Montgomery to strike out more batters than innings pitched in 2021. However, given his diverse pitch mix, it is no question that he can get a swing and miss if he needs one.
Barring any additional acquisitions, Jordan Montgomery needs to take another step forward in his development and pitch in the middle of the Yankees’ starting rotation. He does not posses the overpowering velocity to be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher. Still, his four quality pitches and knowledge of how to pitch make him a viable option in 2021.
His experience is also crucial being that he did pitch in the rotation in 2020. Kluber only pitched one inning with the Texas Rangers. Domingo German and Luis Severino did not pitch for their own, well-documented reasons. Deivi Garcia, Michael King, and Clarke Schmidt made a combined 11 starts for their first MLB experiences.
Although Montgomery’s 2020 season was not great, there are still positives to build off, and as he moves further away from elbow surgery, he should continue to improve in 2021.
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