Last spring the Yankees had a slew of 5th starter candidates. I remember reading the various scouting reports and had hoped that Jordan Montgomery would get the last rotation spot. He had 4 great pitches, excellent command, and really didn’t have anything left to learn in the minors. He entered 2017 camp as a dark horse candidate to make the roster, but forced the team’s hand after striking out 17 and walking only 3 batters in 19.2 innings. Sometimes spring performance does matter. Who knew?
While everyone remembers Severino bursting onto the scene last season throwing 100 and finishing 3rd in the Cy Young voting, Montgomery is often forgotten. MLB Network pundits and other baseball gurus alike were clamoring for the Yankees to go out and get an Alex Cobb or a Lance Lynn. But Guess what? The Yankees have an even better option in Montgomery. Refer below to last season’s statistics comparing the three pitchers:
Well that’s…awkward. Monty is the best option based on last year’s production and he’s our fifth starter, who makes roughly the league minimum. When your 5th starter has numbers like these, you are sitting pretty. Remember Sidney Ponson?
Fast forward a year, and not only is Jordan Montgomery on the team, but he is an integral part of this rotation. His workload has steadily increased the last few years: 134 innings in 2015, 139 innings in 2016, and 163 innings, mostly in the majors, last season. Montgomery has never had an arm problem (knock on wood, forever) and the Yankees will be leaning on him for rotation stability.
Aside from providing innings and a respectable ERA, why exactly was Montgomery good last season? I’m glad you asked. There has been a lot of research detailing what exactly a pitcher can control on the mound. Pitchers typically can’t control whether a bloop falls in for a hit, or if there is an error behind them. However, something they can control is the amount of batters they strike out and walk. Take a look at the charts below from fangraphs, and where Monty sits in relation to these checkpoints:
Monty walked 7.9% while striking out 22.2% of the batters he faced last season. Not a bad rookie campaign at all, but I think Montgomery can improve on his walk rate, in particular. Bernie Pleskoff of fanragsports had a scouting write-up on Montgomery which read: “A complete starting pitcher with an outstanding repertoire and superb command and control.” It’s not uncommon for rookie hurlers to shy away from the strike zone at times when they first come up. Look for him to try to inch his walk rate up into the “average” or even “above average” territory this season.
Here’s another category that may help Jordan avoid the dreaded sophomore slump: ground ball rate. Montgomery did a lot of things well last year, but getting ground balls was not one of them. His 40.7% ground ball rate last season, while not horrendous, left a lot to be desired:
As you can see from the graph above, the MLB average was around 44% last season. Groundballs aren’t everything, but they produce the least amount of extra base hits, and the most amount of easy outs. Hopefully Monty can improve in that category this season along with his walk rate. If he can do that, he can solidify himself as a middle of the rotation guy for future Yankee rotations.