Between now and opening day, we are going to do a deep dive Statcast breakdown on the New York Yankees’ rotation options. We have already covered Jonathan Loaisiga. Up today: Jordan Montgomery
The Yankees drafted Montgomery in the 6th round of the 2014 draft out of the University of South Carolina. Montgomery made his debut in April 2017, and remained in the rotation for the entire year. He made 29 starts and pitched to a 3.88 ERA in 155.1 innings with an 8.34 K/9 and a 2.95 BB/9. Further peripherals show average strikeout and walk rates as well as a league-average xFIP. He was worth 2.6 WAR that season, which was the highest for any MLB rookie. His best start according to Game Score came on May 23 against the Royals in which he pitched 6.2 innings of 2 H, 1 R ball with 0 BB and 6 K.
Unfortunately, Monty only made 6 starts in 2018 because he tore his UCL and required Tommy John surgery. That surgery took him out of most of 2019 as well. He made it back at the end of the 2019 season, appearing in two games to get some work in. He did not pitch in the playoffs last year.
What’s cool about Montgomery is that he is a true 5-pitch pitcher. He utilizes all of the following pitches: four-seam fastball, sinker, curve, changeup, and slider. In 2017, he threw each of these pitches between 13-27% of the time, which made it difficult for hitters to know what was coming. You can see his pitch breakdown by count here:
That is super cool. You can see he is comfortable throwing any pitch in any count. That pattern is the exact opposite of Jonny Lasagna who we previewed last week.
Adding to Montgomery’s deception is his consistent and unique release point. He is 6’ 6” and uses an over the top delivery from the left-hand side.
There are two things to note there. 1. Look how consistent the release point is and how no one pitch is from a slightly different spot. That means batters can’t tell what pitch is being thrown based on where it is released. Secondly, Monty releases the ball from about 7 feet off the ground. Most lefties tend to drop down a little, so batters are not used to seeing pitches come from that arm slot in a lefty. That combination of throwing any pitch in any count from a consistent and unique release point is how Montgomery is effective.
Despite all that, why isn’t Montgomery an ace-caliber pitcher? The answer sadly is stuff. Montgomery doesn’t have the best velocity.
You can see his fastball averages right around 92 mph which is okay. The other component which helps velocity is spin rate, and Montgomery is lacking here as well. His Statcast profile shows that his fastball and curve spin rates are both below average.
Below average velocity and spin rates are usually a death sentence in today’s game, but Montgomery’s control and deception make up for it. Despite those middling stuff numbers, he has above average predictive metrics and an above average whiff %.
How can he improve?
The simplest answer is to throw harder. Usually that wouldn’t be possible, however pitchers are known to come back from Tommy John with increased velocity. Indeed, that appears to be the case for Monty. According to Mike Axisa, Montgomery averaged 92.8 mph and hit 95.2 mph with his fastball against the Mets on Sunday. Just as importantly, he had a 25% whiff % which is incredible. During the broadcast, CC Sabathia talked about how Monty has been up to 96 mph during his rehab and how huge that could be for him. Here are some GIFs to show you what the stuff looks like now. It is noticeably better than what it was a few years ago:
Montgomery strikes out two, allows his first hit in the fourth inning. Six total strikeouts. He's shown pretty good command and velocity tonight. #Yankeespic.twitter.com/8KvL9dWQXY
Montgomery is lined up as the 4th or 5th starter, depending on Masahiro Tanaka’s health, and is in line to get about 10 starts this season. He’s still coming back from Tommy John, so expect the Yankees to take it easy with him. He only got up to 59 in-game pitches over the weekend and threw 15 more in the bullpen, so I would look for him to throw about 80 pitches max in his first start. In the preview for Loaisiga I mentioned he and Monty could tag team with each other during a few starts. They are such different pitchers that it could work really well. After seeing Monty’s slower stuff from the left side, Loaisiga’s upper-90s heat will look even more impressive. I’m excited for what Montgomery can do this year, and he is definitely a breakout candidate if the improved velocity is for real.