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What’s going on with Jordan Montgomery?

Jordan Montgomery is the forgotten Yankees starter. Because he underwent Tommy John surgery last May and there was no expectation of him being ready to pitch again in the majors until at least the second half of 2019, Monty is not on a lot of people’s radar.

The Yankees traded for James Paxton in the offseason, resigned JA Happ, and had five legit starters entering the season — on paper. As we know many things have changed; Luis Severino will miss the entire first half, Paxton is currently on the IL, and Domingo German has been the best pitcher on the staff through a month-and-a-half.

When we last saw Montgomery pitch, he was pretty much following up his impressive 2017 rookie season in which he produced 2.9 bWAR. In 6 starts last year, Monty allowed 25 hits and 11 ER in 27.1 innings, but it was in that 6th start of the season that he left the game with discomfort in his elbow.

A brief rundown of Montgomery’s injury

At first the Yankees did not think Montgomery was going to require surgery. It wasn’t until he had a second MRI that showed he had a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) which meant it was time to go under the knife (do they even use a knife anymore?). Unfortunately for the Yankees and Montgomery, that news came a month after he first left the game on May 1 in Houston, which meant his timetable was pushed a bit.

Current status

I’m writing this today because we saw a video of Montgomery playing catch at the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa.

This is not hold-the-phone news by any means, but it is the first glimpse I’ve seen of Montgomery throwing a baseball. The only updates we had were that he was throwing bullpen sessions in Tampa and on track for a summer return.

Since the start of Spring Training, I’ve seen anywhere from a July to September return for Montgomery, but no actual date. That makes sense because they’re taking it step-by-step. He has not had any setbacks to this point but if he feels discomfort when throwing a breaking ball next week, then all bets are off and the timetable is pushed.

Expectations going forward

I have next to no expectations for Monty this season. If he does come back and pitches for the Yankees, my one hope is that he finishes the season healthy. We’ve seen pitchers returning from surgery struggle in their first half-season back, but really get back to full strength the following year. Anything Montgomery gives the Yanks in 2019 is gravy, but I expect him to be a big part of their 2020 rotation especially with the departure of Sabathia.

In his rookie season, Monty threw 155.1 innings to a 3.88 ERA (4.07 FIP). Most times out he gave the Yankees a consistent performance. In looking at his game log, I count four blowups in 29 starts.

May 18 @ KC: 5 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 3 BB
Jul 19 @ MIN: 6 IP, 7 H, 6 ER
Jul 30 vs TB: 2.2 IP, 6 H, 4 ER
Sep 10 @ TEX: 3.1 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 4 BB

The rest of the time he was solid-to-great, with his best start — according to Game Score — coming May 23 vs KC when allowed just 2 H and 1 ER over 6.2 innings. Overall the Yankees got more than they could have asked for out of a rookie starter.

While Monty was on the playoff roster, he did not get a start. This was not due to his performance but rather because the Yankees had four more proven starters in Severino, Tanaka, Sabathia, and *cough* Gray, ahead of him.

We were looking for Montgomery to take the next step in 2018. His name was floated in a couple of trades during the 2017-18 winter, specifically in a potential package for Gerrit Cole or Michael Fulmer. The Yankees showed confidence in Montgomery by keeping him that his rookie season was not a fluke and he’d continue to get better.

When looking at the Statcast data for him, nothing jumps out — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. His page actually reminds me a lot of Happ’s, who I jokingly call Boring JA Happ. Six innings, 2 or 3 runs, and nothing flashy. Occasionally he get’s knocked around and occasionally he shoves the bats down the opponents throats. But most of the time, what you see is what you get.

Monty 2017: 6.2 Barrel %, 86.7 Exit Velocity, .295 WOBA, .313 xWOBA, 31.8 Hard Hit %, 22.2 K%, 7.9 BB %

Happ 2018: 8.8 Barrel %, 88.1 Exit Velocity, .295 WOBA, .306 xWOBA, 34.0 Hard Hit %, 26.3 K %, 7.0 BB %

In a few areas, Montgomery’s 2017 was actually better than Happ’s 2018. Happ struck out more and walked slightly fewer batters. Monty gave up softer contact. The caveat to these numbers is that Montgomery was a rookie and Happ a 13-year veteran. The book was not out on Montgomery so hitters did not know what to expect. That’s fair, but the data is there to show Montgomery has the potential to be a very valuable starting pitcher.

The biggest difference comes in their pitch mix. Happ is a fastball-first pitcher, throwing his fourseamer 52% of the time throughout his career (that number has actually gone up in recent seasons). Montgomery uses both of his hard pitches, a fourseamer and sinker, about equally at 19% and 22%, respectively. Unlike Happ, he utilizes his secondary pitches much more often, throwing a changeup 19% of the time and a curveball — his best pitch — 26%.

On the mound each attacks hitters in a vastly different way, but the results are pretty much in line. Who cares how you get the outs, as long as you get them?

Whether or not Monty is the Yankees’ next Happ is irrelevant. What you should be excited about is that the Yankees have a 26-year old lefty who has middle-of-the-rotation potential.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Rotondi

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