Here I am writing about another Yankee pitcher, but if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know Jordan Montgomery is my guy. I wrote a season preview for the Yankees lefty before the season began about how I felt he was ready to take the next step in his career. Montgomery has stepped up and delivered for the Yankees but lately, the team hasn’t done the same. He has allowed three runs or less in 16 of his 20 starts. Yet, he’s 4-5 in those starts. Jordan Montgomery needs help.
For a long time, Jacob DeGrom seemingly got no run support from the Mets offense when he pitched. It’s been a years-long joke that the Mets offense doesn’t score for the best pitcher in baseball. Though the best jokes are more truth than joke. While it might normally be a good thing for Montgomery to be mentioned in the likes of Jacob DeGrom, it is not good in this case. Throughout his past seven starts, Jordan Montgomery has received four runs of support in those starts, three of which came in his start Tuesday against Tampa Bay. His last seven starts have come against Sean Manaea, Nathan Eovaldi, Taijuan Walker, Logan Gilbert, Eduardo Rodriguez, Tanner Houck, and Shane McLanahan. Some tough competition for Montgomery.
During that stretch, Montgomery has pitched some of his best baseball this year. He generated a 3.00 ERA and 3.54 FIP in 39 innings. He was keeping his team in every game. His worst start came against the Mets where didn’t make it out of the fifth inning but only gave up three runs. In his last two starts, Montgomery has gone 10.2 innings of scoreless baseball including a start that had a nearly hour-long rain delay in it and he came back out there to pitch another inning and two-thirds of scoreless baseball. While on paper Montgomery may appear to be outmatched in some of those pitching matchups, he has more than held his own.
Montgomery is 1-4 in the past seven starts, which makes him a tough gamble on your fantasy team. Start him for good ratios but either a no-decision or loss paired with the start. The Yankees offense has been very inconsistent all year with too many groundballs and one of the worst offenses with runners in scoring position in team history. But that help may have finally arrived for Montgomery and the Yankees. Joey Gallo was acquired from Texas, and a left-handed power bat is exactly what the Yankees need. Hopefully, the addition of Gallo can help spark the offense to score some runs for their number two starter.
The Number Two
I think about this tweet from Foolish Baseball quite a bit.
Jordan Montgomery might end up as the 2nd best SP on the Yankees this season.
— Foolish Baseball (@FoolishBB) March 28, 2021
To maybe the casual observer, that would seem like a bad outcome for the Yankees if Montgomery would wind up being the Yankee’s number two starter. However, it always seemed like the most realistic option. Corey Kluber was going to deal with an injury at some point and Jameson Taillon was expected to as well. Though Taillon has not been hurt and is starting to pitch well, he was going through growing pains in learning and changing the way he has pitched in years past. That left Montgomery and Domingo German, who had his issues to deal with given his domestic abuse suspension and still figuring out how to pitch himself; though, like Taillon, he has been much better of late. The Yankees were relying on lefty to be an anchor in the rotation behind Gerrit Cole. He has done that so far, but can he keep it up?
His last seven starts have perfectly lined up with the crackdown on foreign substances. His spin rates did fall across the board, not by an overwhelming amount, but enough to be noticeable. His fastball RPMs were usually in the low 2300’s but have been consistently in the mid-2200s since. His other pitches have seen a noticeable drop-off since as well. The quality of his stuff has not changed too much since and his usage rate has varied start-to-start because of this. The issue for Montgomery is he has no feel for where the ball is going sometimes. A normal control artist, Montgomery has had a 9.3% walk rate since the crackdown. And at times in games, Montgomery will randomly lose his control. That lack of command has affected more than just his walk rate, Montgomery’s hard-hit rate has been climbing since as well.
It makes sense, Montgomery is leaving more pitches out in the middle of the plate to try and compensate for the lack of command and wanting to avoid the walks. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it hasn’t hurt him yet because he’s getting more ground balls than he has in the past. Over his last seven starts, Montgomery has three starts with at least a 60% groundball rate. In his previous 13 starts, he had just one start with a groundball rate over 60%. So while he may be getting hit harder, most of it is coming on the ground, making it much more difficult for him to give up damage.
Still, the command problems are a worthwhile discussion to have. He’s been making big starts for the Yankees all year, but a team that has postseason aspirations has to wonder if they can trust a guy who is going to give up some baserunners. During this stretch, Monty’s LOB% is 79.4%. He’s doing a good job of limiting the damage when he gets into trouble, and he’s been able to work into some late-game situations throughout the year when the Yankees needed him to. Aaron Boone has some trust in Montgomery to keep him in the game late, and given the recent struggles and shuffles of the bullpen, that trust might be going a bit far.
Improving Your Game
The one part that hasn’t been noticed enough is Montgomery is missing way more bats recently as well. His SwStr% is up from 12.4% in his first 13 starts to 14.7% in his last seven starts. Among pitchers with at least 20 innings, Montgomery is tied for 5th in the AL in SwStr%. His teammate, Domingo German, is 2nd in the AL during that stretch. Montgomery has generated a SwStr% near 24% on both his changeup and curveball during this stretch. His off-speed stuff has worked well in producing the results that he wants. His changeup has also produced a 65% groundball rate against it. He’s relied heavily on those two pitches recently and it’s working well for him. He has been a curveball, changeup, and sinker primary pitcher this year and while two of those pitches are very good, Montgomery’s sinker could use some work.
Montgomery’s sinker gets some above-average horizontal movement on it but overall, it’s still not moving like an above-average pitch. He also has a hard time getting the ball down in the zone, partly due to the fact he is having problems gripping the ball—but if you can’t command a below-average pitch well, then why throw it a lot? Well, Montgomery’s cutter has good peripheral statistics and hasn’t been hit too hard this year. He’s gotten unlucky with that pitch and may feel better about just avoiding it despite the good metrics with it. His four-seam fastball has been hammered all year with a near 60% hard-hit rate against it, but he’s somehow avoided too much damage as it has an RV of -1 so far this year.
What’s the solution for Montgomery, then? The walks are an issue despite missing more bats, and the command problems have led to him giving up some more hard contact because if they aren’t chasing, he feels they need to come into the zone. He is missing more bats because of his changeup and curveball and his sinker and changeup are producing enough groundballs to get by, and Montgomery doesn’t give up too much hard contact with his curveball either. Does anything need to be changed? He is on track for about a 4 fWAR season and could have a sub 3.80 ERA with peripherals right around there, does he need to make changes?
If he were to make any changes at all, it would be finding a way to locate the sinker down in the zone more and throwing cutters down and away to lefties more often. He needs to be willing to let hitters see the cutter more. He’s added a lot more gyro spin to the ball this year and that’s made it drop a lot harder. It’s not moving enough to be a slider, but it’s a good swing and miss pitch against lefties and righties if thrown correctly. He primarily throws it up and in to righties and seldom to lefties. That should change. If he can locate it down and away, it’ll be a useful strikeout pitch for him.
The real change that Montgomery needs is to grip a baseball. That would help a lot but MLB instituting a foreign substance ban in the middle of the season is about as on-brand as it gets for the classically incompetent league. If his offense can score some runs, Montgomery will get all the help he needs and the Yankees will try to use his steady hand to get back into the postseason.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)