Still adjusting to the lack of baseball, one has to wonder when we can go back to watching home runs and strikeouts instead of staying six feet away from everything and anything (including your mom). And because we are stuck in this perpetual state of doing nothing but browsing the internet and checking the fridge (what is a man to do at home for weeks on end?), one has to accept that we all have to do our part and social distance for quite a while. And that goes for MLB players too! (I think/hope?) Regardless, the concept I’m touching on here is the same I alluded to during my SEO baiting post on Baseball and COVID-19. In that post, I proffered that pitchers dealing with injuries or currently in recovery would benefit greatly, because basically, time is on their side. (Technically it’s on my side if you ask the Rolling Stones.) And while there are a lot of pitchers that fit this criteria (and we might even cover them at a later point), I did want to focus on Jordan Montgomery, who may not just be healthy coming off his Tommy John surgery, but could also be ready to be an impact pitcher on day one. Even if day one looks more and more like year 2021…
Directly correlating to the James Paxton injury and Domingo Germán suspension, Aaron Boone had already decided that Montgomery was a lock for the rotation back on March 5th. Filling in a large hole in the rotation behind a group spearheaded by Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, and J.A. Happ, it was easy to look at the Yankees rotation and feel collectively “meh, I guess” about it. But with just four innings this truncated spring training, I remain encouraged that there’s a lot more here than it seems for a pitcher that struggles to be ranked near the top 100 starters in 2020 (ranging from #86 all the down to #219 based on expert’s preference, and normally drafted 300-400th overall in most drafts).
“With Severino and Paxton’s injuries, I’ve decided to add in Montgomery, but my first step in trying to figure out my thoughts on him led me down a trail of broken dreams about his Tommy John surgery in 2018, and shoulder issues last year. Sorta like Chris Davis, Montgomery’s already got three strikes against him. He used to work with four pitches, and, in his last full season, he was a cheap, valuable starter, so I’m not out on him for a flyer, but expecting more than 100 IP from a guy who hasn’t throw in 18 months is silly and the Yankees do have other options.” – Grey.
Listen, as always, Grey is right here. There are plenty of questions, and the lack of any recent observations and results muddies the water a bit. However, instead of focusing on his minuscule four innings pitched this spring (he struck out seven), I’d rather look at what is one of the most important factors coming off such a major surgery, and that’s velocity. Being out for most of 2018 and 2019, we unfortunately have to go back all the way back to 2017 to remember what he brought to the table…
While his four-seam fastball (5.6% SwStr) was a bit middling three years ago, he averaged 91-92 MPH with this pitch. Fast forward to this spring, and in those four innings, you want to guess what he averaged? Spoiler alert: he averaged 91-92 MPH! Now granted, we are still dealing with a lack of data, but in terms of Tommy John (what a jerk this Tommy is!), either you can or you can’t throw it like you used to, and I’d say it’s a lot more encouraging that he’s showing at least the ability to return to that same velocity pre-surgery and not lingering in the 88-90 range.
Keep in mind that Montgomery’s four-seamer is essential to his entire profile, not because the pitch itself is good in a vacuum, but rather he depends on it to set up his off-speed repertoire. If the velocity has returned, his two best pitches immediately benefit; In 2017, his curveball held an above-average 42.8 K% and 19.1 SwStr%, with hitters generating a low .276 slugging and .104 ISO. And his changeup, which he throws up to 10 MPH lower, will also hold it’s value.
Granted, there are a lot of other names you’d rather want based off the same concept explored in this post, like Lance McCullers Jr. or someone like Michael Kopech. But if you haven’t sensed a theme with most of my content, I just love value. With Jordan Montgomery, I think it’s okay that many see him as an afterthought. Maybe a guy that can provide some wins with a run-generating lineup, won’t hurt your counting stats terribly, etc.. All that I’m saying is: If his velocity is in fact back, he won’t just be who he used to be, as Grey put, a cheap and valuable starter, but he also has the chance to be a lot more.
The Yankees probably know this, maybe you should too.
Jay is a longtime Razzball everything who consumes an egregious amount of Makers Mark as a vehicle to gain wisdom and augment his natural glow. Living in the D.C. area, he also likes spending time visiting the local parks and feeding lettuce to any turtles he encounters, including Mitch McConnell. You can follow him @jaywrong, or read his rarely (like never) updated blog Desultory Thoughts of a Longfellow.