Okay, so hear me out. The 2017 Rookie of the Year award is a lot like the 1988 NBA Three-Point Competition. According to Larry Bird, he walked into the locker room before the 1988 shoot-out and asked his fellow competitors, “Who’s coming in second?” In 2017, Aaron Judge is the Larry Bird in this analogy, and all the other rookies this year are just playing for second. Fortunately for the Yankees, it looks like they have a prime candidate for second place—Jordan Montgomery. Right now, he’s the best rookie starting pitcher in the league in nearly every statistical category.
Montgomery turned in another fantastic start on Friday night against the Orioles for the third time in his 11 career starts. He last faced the Orioles on May 29th and didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. On Friday, the 24-year-old lefty racked up eight strikeouts in seven innings, both career highs marks.
Although he did run into a little bit of trouble in the second inning. Montgomery allowed his only walk and three of the five Oriole hits, including a two-run home run off the bat of Jonathan Schoop. After the second, Montgomery only allowed one baserunner the rest of the night.
Monty very clearly adjusted well from his last time out against the Orioles. He worked fastballs inside to help set up his off-speed pitches, and generally threw fewer pitches per at-bat. To provide one example, Jack Curry pointed out on Friday’s postgame show that Montgomery threw 21 of his 100 pitches to Joey Rickard on May 29th. In Friday’s game, Rickard only saw nine pitches. The individual start is great itself, but it is even more impressive once one considers Montgomery’s greater body of work. Currently, Montgomery’s stat line says he is the best rookie pitcher in the league and one of the best rookies in general, second only to Aaron Judge.
Aaron Judge currently sports an fWAR of 3.2, tied for second in the league behind Mike Trout. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this makes Judge the leader amongst all rookies. It also makes him a near lock for Rookie of the Year, unless he develops a case of gigantism or falls into a bottomless pit.
Second amongst all rookies is Jordan Montgomery with a 1.4 fWAR. Mitch Haniger and Ben Gamel are close behind Montgomery, but both are position players. Currently, there are no rookie starting pitchers really close to Montgomery, and the gap is only widening.
After making the worst start of his career on May 18th in Kansas City, Montgomery had a 4.81 ERA and a BB/9 rate over 4. In four starts since, Montgomery has a 1.50 ERA and his BB/9 rate is 1.88. The falling walk rate is the most pleasing thing to me here. A BB/9 north of 4 is not conducive to success at all. Montgomery already strikes out a fair amount of hitters and generally keeps the ball in the ballpark, so bringing the walk rate down makes him an extremely effective rookie.
Few rookies are even close to competing with Montgomery’s stat line. In all true pitching outcomes—strikeouts, home runs, and walks—Montgomery is near or at the top of the leaderboard. Rockies pitcher, German Marquez, has a slight edge on Montgomery with K/9 and K/BB ratios. However, Montgomery owns a better K%, striking out 23% of his batters and Marquez only 22.6%.
Montgomery has also done an excellent job of keeping the ball in the park relative to other rookies. Giants’ rookie starter Ty Blach has a better HR/9 rate than Montgomery, but Blach has the luxury of pitching in the most pitcher-friendly park in the league, AT&T Park. On the other hand, Montgomery pitches at Yankee Stadium, where homers have always been prevalent. Monty does have the splits advantage of being a lefty, but it doesn’t altogether change the fact that AT&T Park is a much more friendly stadium to pitchers.
Lastly, Montgomery also leads rookie pitchers in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and fWAR. Montgomery possesses a 1.4 fWAR and a 3.52 FIP. Rockies pitchers German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela are second and third in fWAR and second and fourth in FIP, respectively. Both trail Monty nearly half a win in fWAR and has a near half a point lead on Marquez in FIP.
These two statistics are perhaps the most telling with regard to Montgomery’s effectiveness as a rookie starter. Both FIP and fWAR measure pure pitching performance, and the results show a lot of promise. No one really expected this kind of performance from Montgomery so soon, and he is very quickly showing us that he can be a threat in the rotation.
With three of the five Yankee starters in contract years, Montgomery’s continued success will inevitably alleviate pressure to resign or sign starting pitchers in the office season. Even if Montgomery is playing for a second-place ROY finish, that doesn’t diminish how great he’s been this year relative to the rest of the rookie pitchers.