Jordan Montgomery hopes to build on a surprisingly successful 2017 season, but will there be enough innings for him to do so?
The Yankees continue to look to add a starter to their rotation - already five strong - meaning Montgomery would seem to be the odd man out should all parties be healthy. His potential fate may not seem to be completely fair considering his performance in 2017.
Montgomery hurled 155 1/3 innings across 29 starts in his rookie campaign, to the tune of a 3.88 ERA (112 ERA+), 1.23 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, 8.3 K/9, and 1.2 HR/9. He finished sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting.
Montgomery is far from overpowering, but his five-pitch repertoire helps him navigate lineups, knowing he can move from pitch to pitch in order to determine which offering will get the job done on a specific day. There are issues with his pitch selection as well, which we will discuss later.
The Yankees front office must have some concerns where it concerns Montgomery as they work to improve their rotation from the outside. First, Montgomery had a difficult time pitching deep into games. He averaged just 87 pitches per start and 5.4 innings pitched per start. Montgomery managed a quality start - three earned runs or fewer in six innings or more - just 34 percent of the time, where the MLB average was 44 percent.
While Montgomery fits the Yankees' desired mold being a lefty pitcher in Yankee Stadium, he does not generate ground balls at the rate one would hope in the ballpark. Frankly, his 40.7 percent ground ball rate and the 11.2 home run to fly ball ratio are a bad mix regardless of the ballpark.
Montgomery's poor results with both his two-seam and four-seam fastball, which he threw second-most often (24.2 percent) and fourth-most often (17.7 percent) respectively present a significant issue. He allowed batters a .353 batting average and .563 slugging percentage against the two-seamer, while batters hit .284 with a .459 slugging percentage against the four-seamer. Obviously, these metrics do not bode well when they account for over 40 percent of all pitches thrown.
The 25-year-old's off-speed deliveries are what keeps him employed. Montgomery's curveball, his most used pitch at 25.9 percent, was nasty, holding batters to a .175 average, a .281 slugging percentage, and induced 127 swing-and-misses with the pitch. His changeup (19.0 percent usage) and slider (13.1 percent) were also very effective with batters only managing .209 and .170 averages against them respectively.
It will be interesting to see how the Yankees approach Montgomery in an effort to maximize the effectiveness of his pitch repertoire. He has three plus off-speed pitches, but his fastballs virtually wipe away their value. Whether concentrating on one type of fastball or reducing the mix of the two is the answer, if Montgomery cannot hold batters to respectable lines with the fastballs, hitters will simply wait on those pitches in the plate appearance and produce successful at-bats.
We mentioned early on that the number of innings coming Montgomery's way could be hindered if the club signs or trades for another pitcher. If the Yankees decline to add to the rotation, he will have to perform at the top of his game to maintain his role, as there are others in the system that will be working to reach the majors throughout the season by taking advantage of any hiccups from Montgomery.
For the sake of projections, lets assume Montgomery stays in the rotation for the full season and grabs 30 starts. With that in mind, he could extend to 165 innings, which is slightly ahead of his 2017 average innings per start. If Montgomery can produce a better mix of pitches, figures out how to generate an increase in ground balls and allows fewer home runs - things he demonstrated he could handle in the minors - the overall results will improve from his rookie campaign.
If Montgomery creates positive change, his ERA should fall in the 3.70 range with a 1.20 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, 8.5 K/9 and 1.0 HR/9. These are strong numbers for a fourth/fifth starter. However, the downside if the effectiveness of Montgomery's fastballs do not improve while ground ball rates decrease and home run rates jump, his ERA could easily jump into the 4.50 area.
The Yankees remaining on the periphery of the starting pitcher market this winter tells us everything we need to know about the club feels about Montgomery. The Yankees seem to view him as immediate depth, and not a pitcher they expect to jump to the top half of the rotation. If the Yankees feel as though Montgomery is not progressing, it does not seem they have a problem pulling the plug, and moving on with either someone in the organization or with a trade.