2017 was a great year for Yankee rookies. And no, I'm not just talking about Aaron Judge (although let's be honest here when you put up 8.2 fWAR in your rookie season you have the right to get talked about as much as you want). Just like Judge led all AL rookie position players in fWAR, Jordan Montgomery's 2.7 fWAR was good for first place among all AL rookie pitchers. In fact, he was the only AL rookie SP who eclipsed the 2 fWAR mark. Pretty good for a guy who grabbed the fifth starter job out of nowhere.
The question with Montgomery is, as is the case for all rookies, “How will he do next year?” Will he suffer a sophomore slump? Will he continue to be what he was in 2017, a solid #4-5 starter with flashes of a #3? Or will he take the next step and become a top-of-the-rotation arm? Let's dive into his 2017 numbers to find out.
Jordan Montgomery's 2017 stat line is as follows - 3.88 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 22.2 K%, 7.9 BB%. No one stat jumps out at you, but everything is solid across the board. His run prevention results seem to be grounded in a good-not-great K-BB foundation, which suggests that he should be able to keep on keeping on, barring horrible BABIP/LOB% luck.
Are his K and BB skills real? At the very least, his strikeout rate seems to be well earned. Montgomery ran a swinging strike rate of 12.2%, which ranked 15th among all SP with at least 150 IP. Surrounding him were names like Zack Greinke, Yu Darvish, and Sonny Gray, which is pretty good company to have. His O-Swing% of 33.2 ranked even higher at 9th, above names like Jacob DeGrom and Clayton Kershaw. Montgomery gets hitters to chase, and he gets them to whiff. Those are mighty fine skills to have as a pitcher.
Montgomery's K skills stem from his quality secondaries. His slider, changeup, and curveball all generated positive pitch values in 2017. Among them, his curveball was the best, ranking 5th among all SPs (min. 150 IP) with 10.3 runs above average. Montgomery wasn't afraid to throw it with regularity, throwing it just above a quarter of the time.
So, Monty has good K numbers, with the peripherals and the stuff to back it up. What, then, are the holes in his game?
Montgomery's one glaring weakness lies in his fastball. According to FanGraphs, his heater was worth 8.0 runs below average in 2017. BrooksBaseball also agrees - according to their data, both his four-seam and his sinker (possibly two-seam, but classified as sinker) were hit hard compared to his other offerings, with his sinker in particular yielding a slugging percentage against of .622. Other commentators noted his struggles with his fastball command, which is crucial for Montgomery given his ho-hum velocity (average of 92 mph).
Montgomery tried to overcome this by throwing fastballs less often than average, as his fastball percentage of 41.9% ranked 4th-least among all SPs (min. 150IP). It's a bold strategy, and it's shared by other members of the Yankees' pitching corps, including one Masahiro Tanaka. It does make sense on paper, given the quality of Montgomery's secondary weapons, but its long-term viability remains to be seen. If Montogmery is already throwing fewer fastballs than all but four major league starters, would he really stand to improve by throwing them even less often?
What, then, does the future hold for Jordan Montgomery? At the very least, I think it's safe to say that he's no flash in the pan. His K skills are legitimate, as he has demonstrated the ability to use his curveball/changeup/slider combo to get hitters to both chase and whiff. At the same time, it's clear that Montgomery needs to improve either the quality or the command of his fastball in order to reach the next level.
The bad news in this regard is that Montgomery's needs seem to run counter with the Yankees' organizational approach to pitching, with Larry Rothschild clearly emphasizing the importance and effectiveness of pitching backwards. However, Rothschild also showed a willingness to work with Luis Severino on his fastball command, which paid off big time in 2017. While Monty's fastball can't hold a candle to Severino's heat, improved command would go a long way towards making Montgomery's arsenal more complete. Sure, Jordan Montgomery is good enough as is, but Yankee fans shouldn't be discouraged from thinking that he could be even better.